What's a young rock-and-roll musician to do when he finds himself at an artistic crossroads? For Bryan Howell, the answer was simple, even if getting there turned out to be anything but: his first full-length album, Take The Risk.
The making of Take The Risk is an intense and wild story from start to finish. It's the tale of an independent artist who goes out on a limb self-financing his album, and augmenting his core 4-piece band sound in the studio as needed with keyboards, horns and backing singers to bring to life what he's hearing in his head. Mix in a monk-like devotion to songwriting, exacting rehearsals, impassioned tracking in the studio, and a gaggle of area session players bringing their A-game on call to the tracks as needed. Add a subsequent move from upstate NY to Nashville to follow the new direction of his muse and musical instincts. Then jam it all into several months of crazed nights and weekends as schedules and gigs allowed, and capture it all in the studio using a mixture of the newest digital recording advances and old-fashioned analog tape.
The sheer amount of one-in-a-million happenings that brought it all together could very likely fill a book. Instead, they've been distilled into an album filled with energetic street-poet rock songs, with some achingly gorgeous change-ups lending the whole thing a fulfilling depth. On lead-off single "Your Saturday Night", everything comes through. Big rock guitars roar out with a huge-sounding rhythm section; keyboards, backing vocals and handclaps jump in and fill things out in all the right places; and the songwriting pops and rocks and rolls, jolting with energy and polished song-craft.
Onstage, it somehow goes further. With The Standalones, his brilliant backing band and spiritual/musical comrades-in-arms, Howell leads the charge fearlessly. Tall and thin, with a shock of high-swept hair, he dances atop speakers, high-fives audience members, or Cheshire-cat-grins as his bandmates play alongside him while cradling his trusty, beat-up Telecaster. The passion and energy is palpable. Here is a live act that is alive. The resulting vibe, sweat and passion creates a thrilling and unique show every night.
Howell is nearly dogmatic toward maintaining his artistic integrity, and his steadfast devotion to his craft is matched only by his interest in providing an audience with the showmanship and musicianship he feels they deserve from him—and the benefits he feels it can provide. "Music should give you a great time, singing along and dancing, and hopefully a bit more out of it too, a spiritual or emotional refill if you will," he explains. "Some people might mock me for saying that. That's fine. I'm not going to stop playing as hard as I can because of them." Take The Risk, indeed.