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The Don Howard Band
Poet's Road

Review By Gigi Krop

 

A few weeks ago under the influence of heavy silence and late-night haze my computer called to me…Gigi, Gigi go on Facebook. In a zombie like state I staggered to my computer, went on Facebook and typed in the name of my ex-husband of many moons passed. There he was - older for sure but totally recognizable. A little more research and I learned that Don had achieved his dream of recording an original CD, Poet's Road.

A long time ago when we met, Don had already recorded an album on the United Artist label with Mark Mangold and a group called Valhalla. They played the Long Island club scene side-by-side with Billy Joel, Leslie West and the Vanilla Fudge also went on tour as opening act for John Sebastian, Buddy Miles and Jimi Hendrix.  (He told me the story of meeting Jimi backstage and shaking his fabulous long-fingered large palmed hand.)

The Valhalla CD with shades of Captain Jack Sparrow and the burning Viking boat on the cover can be found on Amazon & eBay. Don parted ways with Valhalla to pursue his own personal acoustic sound. We met after Valhalla and lived together in a one-bedroom apt with a 16 track recording studio and a dozen guitars. Meanwhile, back at my computer I sent Don an email…and he replied.

 

Listening Session – System 1
It is another late night in May and I pop the CD in the Marantz console and flip on the Volksamp for a quick listen. Don's voice and musical style have matured in the years that passed. Although there is neither sound stage nor silence between the notes, the music takes me in.  There appears to be a lack of detail but Don's voice is accurate (He sounds just like I remember) and Leslie Anne Forman's voice is warm & sexy. I don't hear the bass guitar, but the interplay of Scribner's soulful lead guitar and Don's skillful acoustic sound brings a smile to my face. The words reveal Don's sensitive deep- feeling nature and his perceptive point of view hits a resounding note of accuracy. The band plays well together and their bluesy/ jazzy/ folksy style is a unique combination. I think that a jazz piano a la Bruce Hornsby would add to the acoustic vibe and create some interesting melodic interplay. The sound quality has an aura around it that I don't understand.

Prelude
The next day, via Email Don tells me that the CD was professionally mixed & mastered by Jack Douglas at the former Record Plant. I'm impressed by this info and call Mr. & Mrs. M to request a listening session on their hi-end over-the- top sound system. The editor of Enjoy the Music.com, Steven R. Rochlin, agrees to publish the review and everything is sunshine and rainbows.

 

Listening Session – System 2
After a tough battle with Miami rush hour traffic, I arrive at the home of Mr. and Mrs. M.  Our host & hostess prepare a delicious barbeque dinner then we take a break while Mr. M connects the CD player. Kristine (Mrs. M),   Mr. M. Irwin, Simona (the Pomeranian) and I enter the hushed sanctity of the spacious, beautifully appointed custom - built listening room.  In front of us is an audiophile's dream come true: an array of speakers and amplifiers to knock your headphones off. To the left is a wall of hi-end electronics. The sitting area is set back about 20 feet from the speakers. This is a one of a kind listening room and it is a great honor to experience this system. Yes I said experience. You do not just listen; you experience the room, the design and the lighting effects of this amazing set-up.

Before any of us get settled, Mr. M glides the CD into the Sony player and takes a seat.

First I choose Julio Inglesis for a male voice comparison. The lights are turned off:  Everyone finds a seat. I climb into the specially designed reclining contraption of a chair and the power indicators of the electronics blink like stars in the night. The music washes over us and we are in the eye of a musical hurricane. We are transfixed by the multi-directional layers of sound. The sultry voice of Julio Inglesis (the original Latin crooner) envelopes us. I catch a movement in the corner of my eye. It is Irwin performing a Tai Chi dance.  "This is how my system is supposed to sound" says Mr. M with a sigh of relief."

The next CD is the sound track of Rush. Into the Sony it goes, screw it in place, hit the play button and the cover glides closed. The electronics blink in the distance like a city of lights.

"Do you want me to turn on the subwoofers?" queries Mr. M.

Kristine and I answer with a resounding "Yes." We all sit back in our chairs as Mr. Clapton takes center stage and I mean that literally. The soundstage is amazingly accurate and you can pinpoint each instrument in time and space. The gigantic multi-drivers of the Velodyne subwoofers give us a full range of bass in undeniable detail. Eric's guitar woos us with sweet agony and Simona has a smile on her face as the highs gently rise until they reach a level beyond what our human ears can perceive.

Ok, now I'm ready for Poet's Road. Dim the lights and let's get this party started. ..We skip the first track "Mornin, Noon & Night" because the sound is too "clanky" for our sensitive ears.

The second cut, "Time Had Away" starts to play and the music sounds very distant – the listener is in the back of the concert hall and the bass is almost missing. On the other hand Don's voice is clean & accurate, the lyrics touch me deeply and ring true to life's experience. Yes there is wisdom in the words. The interplay of lead guitar and acoustical guitar is comparable to the Eagles and the style is reminiscent of the Byrds.  The next song, "Sleepless Nights" is a blues song with a great feel. Leslie Ann has a beautiful voice but the sound is blurry & spongy and the words difficult to decipher. The hook is catchy and we can all relate to the sentiment behind the words. We encounter a similar situation on the cut "Cat & Dog". It is impossible to hear the lyric on a hi-end system. This is unfortunate because the words are poetry. The acoustic guitar blends with the percussion and we are unable to distinguish the instruments. It is frustrating to listen to this CD because the music is beautiful but the sound quality... oy  veh.  The 5th track "Lost in a Dream" is my favorite song on this CD. It has universal appeal. The melody is sweet & memorable and Leslie Ann & Don's voice harmonize well together.  The name doesn't seem to fit the words…I would name it "Moment in Time". The next track (six), "Time Traveler" may also be well served with a different name. The guitar work is unique and the melody is flowing.  Irwin thought the second stanza is out of sync with the first (He's an alternative medicine guy-not a writer); I understand it is contemplative in nature and would call it "Miss You". 

"

 

Interlude
Mr. M is lying on the floor of his listening room, an arm slung over his head. "So, what do you think?" I ask. He replies, "The music is good, but all I hear is the problems with the recording and I cannot enjoy." Upon returning to my house, I send a diplomatic email to Don. "The music is great, but the sound is not right. What equipment did you record it on?" He responded, "We recorded the CD in my friends' kitchen out in the country on an 8 track Tascam analog machine. Very limited on overdubs, didn't have room for any ‘wall of sound' multi overdubs or layering.  Jack D. brought us down to iiwii (John Hanti) studios (the old Record Plant) to try & beef it up thru their mega tube preamps/processors before we did the analog to digital transfer." This explains the aura around the sound that I heard on the entry level system.

Knock me over with a corner tune. The notes on the CD say: Recorded & Mixed at The Kitchen. Silly me, I thought it was a recording studio. The Grateful Dead started out as a garage band, but a kitchen band is something new to me. Is this a reality show?

 

Finale
I return to my living room for a final sit down with this CD on System 1. This array of equipment is entry level and less revealing than the hi-end system.  The percussion on "Mornin' Noon & Night" is easier on the ears.  I can listen through the defects and enjoy the lyric, melody and guitar work. Also the last track "Sweet Bitter Tears" with its angry guitar and political commentary reveals the insight and talent of the writer and musicians.

And then the wheels of what's left of my brain start to turn, the sound of my thoughts whizzthrough my inner ear... an idea is born. The Don Howard Band needs a real recording company (hello) that will accentuate the subtle sounds the silences, the sweet guitar and sensitive lyric. I know just the recording company…Chesky Records. These two entities are a perfect match. Chesky's recording techniques and acoustic inclination is a perfect canvas for the soulful music of the Don Howard Band.  I think they can make beautiful music together. With a little luck maybe some of these songs will be re-recorded. Stay tuned for the next CD from the Don Howard Band a.k.a. Poet's Road.

Till then, enjoy the music...

 

System 1 – Entry Level
Marantz Audio Console AC-500 CD Player/Preamp
NAD Receiver
Pass Volksamp
JSE Infinite Slope Speakers(1 pair)
Straightwire Interconnects
Monster Cable Speaker Cables and Power Conditioner

 

System  2 – High-End
Sony Super Audio SA CD-1
Krell Reference 64 D to A converter
Balanced Audio Technology (BAT) SE-51 Preamp
Krell KAS Audio Standard Amplifiers(2 pair) – recently reconditioned & updated.
Krell Balanced KBX Crossover s (1 pair)
Apogee Diva Speakers (1 pair)
Velodyn Multi Driver Subwoofers (1 pair)
Velodyn Amplifiers (2 pair)
MIT Interconnect Cables
Audio Quest Dragon Speaker Cables
MIT Power Cords & Conditioners
Custom Designed Dedicated Listening Room 18 ft X 30 ft with 13 X 15 Ft Slanting Ceiling & Specially Designed Sound Treatment. Each amplifier is on its own dedicated 30 amp circuit  

 

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