CD Reviews

Brian Howe - 'Circus Bar' Hot

Added by James Gaden     February 17, 2010    
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First new solo album for thirteen years by former Bad Company vocalist Brian Howe.

It's been thirteen years since we heard anything from Brian Howe - in the form of new music at least. First appearing on most people's radar way back in the early eighties singing on Ted Nugent's 'Penetrator' record, Brian's big break came when he joined the re-formed Bad Company, replacing Paul Rodgers, on their comeback album 'Fame And Fortune'. Some hardcore fans balked at the new keyboard heavy pop music direction, but one thing you couldn't question was the quality of Brian's voice. For the next decade, Howe and producer/co-writer Terry Thomas wrote the bulk of the material for 'Dangerous Age', 'Here Comes Trouble' and the platinum selling 'Holy Water', with each album spawning hit singles in the States. Howe eventually left the band somewhat acrimoniously with a Bad Company live album 'What You Hear Is What You Get' issued in his wake, before they ultimately recruited Robert Hart for two records until Paul Rodgers returned.

Brian made a solo album, 'Tangled In Blue', written after a messy divorce and as a result was a well crafted, but moody, mature and intensely different album to what fans like myself knew him for. The album disappeared quickly, got a re-release under the name 'Touch' with a bonus track on, but again, soon disappeared. And that was it - Brian toured a lot playing shows in the States, singing Bad Company songs from his own era and Paul Rodgers' era, but the chance of new music looked slim.

Finally, thirteen years since 'Tangled In Blue', Brian is back, in a big way! You'll get the full story about the album in my thoroughly entertaining chat with him elsewhere in the magazine, but his new record is sure to please his fans. Exploding out with the infectious and apt 'I'm Back', time seems to have stood still for Brian. His voice sounds exactly as it did in his Bad Company hey day, and the material is upbeat, superbly produced, sonorous and boasting all the hallmarks of quality we have come to expect from a Frontiers release. 'There's This Girl' is another great example of the quality of the material on offer, complete with a melody and sound not unlike how you imagine the Howe-era Bad Company might sound today.

Apart from the high quality of songwriting and Brian's unique voice, there are also two re-recordings of Bad Company standards on offer. The hit 'How About That' gets an updated arrangement and a cool feel to it, but one of the show stealers is the amazing reworking of 'Holy Water'. Turned into an atmospheric ballad, the results are stunning. I was initially unhappy when I saw two tracks were "old" songs, but Brian has done an amazing job of making real differences to them both, so you feel like you're getting something new.

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There's some classic rock on there too in the form of 'If You Want Trouble' with a killer vocal. There's some great playing on the album, with guest appearances from Pat Travers and Wayne Nelson. There's plenty of guitars to the front, bouncing rhythms, catchy hooks, a glossy production. Howe has done a terrific job of making a modern, accessible album which still appeals to his original fans. His voice sounds brilliant, and if you liked his work with Bad Company, check this out. It may have taken thirteen years to get here, but it was worth it!

James Gaden

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