After 20+ years of leading bands (Two Dollar Pistols, Rosewood Bluff) – country / honky tonk singer John Howie, Jr. sets ‘em up and knocks ‘em right back down again on his debut solo album ‘Not Tonight’ – creating a solid record full to bursting with classic country music.
You may know some of Howie’s work from the tune “Fuck Up” that he co-wrote with former bandmate / ex-girlfriend Sarah Shook. It was that relationship (and it’s dissolution) that led Howie down the road to ‘Not Tonight’ – an intensely personal, haunting, and intimate look at one man’s journey to himself.
“This album,” Howie says, “is a step forward from a disconcerting period of time in my life. In this case, the long, slow dissolution of a relationship. Everything that goes with that is in these songs: loss, loneliness, booze, suspicion, all of it. Not Tonight confronts a specific, painful period in my life, and the music is largely sparser, the lyrics more confessional than before. It ends on a relatively high note, but it’s a mighty rough road gettin’ there.”
Featuring appearances by members of his own backing band The Rosewood Bluff, Sarah Shook and the Disarmers, the Shirlette Ammons Band, and Tonk, the subject matter of Not Tonight felt a little too personal to commit to anything but his own name. “I ended up with a group of songs about a certain cycle in my personal life that did not fall within the scope of the band records I’ve made in the past, with the Two Dollar Pistols or the Rosewood Bluff in terms of arrangement or lyrical style,” says Howie. “And these songs necessitated a different approach as far as instrumentation went. For starters, I wanted to play drums on the record, for a different kind of feel. Of the 9 songs on the album with drums, I play drums on 8 of them, while Dave Hartman (SCOTS, Rosewood Bluff) plays on the ninth. Also, the Merle Haggard/George Jones influences remain, as always, as does the heavy presence of pedal steel guitar. But there are Nikki Sudden-style acoustic guitars, too, and strings inspired by Scott Walker records.”
Howie has also used his place in the musical community of North Carolina to support his local LGBT community. After coming out as bisexual in 2017 – he realised he needed to get more active – especially given our national climate. Most recently he has been outspoken in opposing the North Carolina anti-trans bill HB2 and organized (and performed at) several concerts to help raise awareness and defeat the bill.
Check out ‘Not Tonight’ over on bandcamp and take some honestly raw and touching honky tonk home with you tonight.