Catherine Howe | What A Beautiful Place (The Numero Group)

cd_howeWe're delivered to this place we don't know, in a time we don't know, and somehow feel like we know exactly where we are. We see the grimey smiles, and the smokehouse soot doubling as sunshine. Welcome to Halifax.

 

 

 

 

The name Catherine Howe rings no bells. She and her music have lived quietly in obscurity, the layers of dust thickening with each passing decade. There is something wonderful about dust, though: it takes little more than a curious, focused exhale to expose what lies beneath.

Masters of archeological exhales the Numero Group have uncovered yet another gem, this time the debut album of a 19-year-old girl from northern England. Recorded over four days in February 1971 London, What a Beautiful Place is Catherine Howe's autobiography, a story of adolescence beautifully told, her voice the pen.

Colored in by jazz pianist Bobby Scott, the story begins with "Up North," the absolute standout of the standouts offered by this album. It's the story of Halifax, the northern England home of her youth, "where the people smile their grimey smiles." It's the most beautifully written chapter of her story, and it alone makes the album worth a trip into your ears. It is the crown jewel of Scott's orchestration, the perfect backdrop for the story Howe wants to tell; their tones are identical. It is as loving ode to a hometown as I've ever heard. We're delivered to this place we don't know, in a time we don't know, and somehow feel like we know exactly where we are. We see the grimey smiles, and the smokehouse soot doubling as sunshine. Welcome to Halifax.

And there is "The Innocence of a Child," a departure from the rest of the album, but just as outstanding. It opens with a piano riff reminiscent of southern blues, and we hear a voice gently ride above the heaviest composition the album has to offer. If the album is her autobiography, this chapter was written as the melancholy of adolescence was setting in. "Now the dark is my home, for the sun won't shine/ except on the innocence of a child," she sings.

And now back to the dust. Recorded under Reflection Records, What a Beautiful Place was released only to the media in 1971. CBS passed on Howe and her hidden masterpiece, and while the BBC's Radio One had it in their rotation, that would be the only light of day it would ever see. And so at this point we all must get out a piece of paper and begin to write Ken Shipley, Rob Sevier, and Tom Lunt a thank-you note. They are the men who make up the Numero Group, the ultimate diggers, not simply in it for that one incredible track, but for that one incredible story. A 19-year-old girl whose name rings no bells, and an album collecting dust for 30 years is our story. Gentlemen, thank you for that curious, focused exhale. | Sam Levy

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