Anyone who knows who C. Thomas Howell is will be a little blown away to hear that he’s now writing and performing country music with a big rock side and a lot of outlaw swagger. I know I was. I’ve known that Howell, now performing as Tommy Howell, has continued working for many years as an actor, director, and writer in the film and television world, but making the leap into the musical arena is a different kettle of fish.
He’s made it work, however, with his first two singles “Rose Hill” and “Whiskey Demon”. The latter is his latest single and its bluesy paean to alcohol and self-destruction hidden by a coy sense of humor in the way the lyrics are constructed. It’s a lyrical catalog disguised as a monologue with Howell reeling off call outs to practically every major brand of bourbon available on the shelf of Your Local Neighborhood Liquor Store today.
Some may not enjoy that. They want something darker, more nakedly autobiographical, and it’s obvious that Howell isn’t interested in that at all. Instead, he takes listeners through the song’s gritty slog with his head held high and a smile on his face. The song’s “narrator”, presumably Howell, makes no apologies for his hard-drinking way, though there’s obviously a strong undercurrent of darkness in this song, if you choose to hear it that way.
The supporting musicians grab the material by its neck and wring every ounce of drama out of the proceedings. It’s a band who clearly knows how to attack an age-old style without ever reducing it to cliché. It’s no small thing. The guitar playing, especially, deserves special mention. It’s orchestrated in the sense that Howell and his cohorts obviously boast a strong command over dynamics. The measured way that the guitar carries listeners from the hushed opening into its climatic fury at the end is a masterclass in how to elevate material such as this.
It didn’t need much elevating, however. Howell’s struck gold twice now and it’s already setting him far apart from the standard actors who hit the road looking for glory in an arena they aren’t meant to be. Howell owns this song; even his vocal growl, surprising as hell to me in light of the young man I remember from days long ago, cuts through, above all else, because of its unquestionable sincerity.
It won’t be the last time we hear it. Howell has found a whole new artistic life with this music and his love for the form shines through. I wouldn’t expect him to stand pat; however, as I am sure Howell will always search out the best musicians who share his ideas are for the music. I will confess that I didn’t expect much from the music going in, it’s a different style altogether but memories of Bruce Willis as Bruno haunt me to this day, but Tommy Howell’s reinvention is a stunning success. I’ll be waiting for my chance to hear whatever he releases next.
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