Danielle Howle – The nutty confessor
Danielle Howle is a staunchly independent free spirit who has done things her own way for years. She began performing in South Carolina over a decade ago with an acoustic group that got “mostly weird looks from the local bar’s regulars,” Howle remembers. Since then, she has been a key member of two bands — the artsy, crafted rock of Lay Quiet Awhile (whose Delicate Wire album was released on Daemon Records in 1994) and the more pop-oriented sensibilities of her current electric combo, the Tantrums (Do A Two Sable, Daemon, 1997).
Her parallel solo career has yielded three additional albums, two of which were released in 1996 — Live At McKissick (Daemon) and About To Burst (Simple Machines). Her latest, an acoustic recording titled Catalog released in the spring of ’99 by Kill Rock Stars, features sparse vocal and instrumental accompaniment from Dan Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell of the band Ida, as well as Jenny Toomey of Tsunami.
Howle’s songs are deceptively simple blues/folk constructions supporting some weighty topics. Witness the memories of her first acoustic group echoing across the years to “Passing Through”, a song Howle wrote after a band member committed suicide. A heartfelt eulogy to a friend lost too soon, it is the new album’s cornerstone.
Howle’s offbeat onstage demeanor is often diametrically opposed to the poetic morbidity of her lyrics. There is “Willow In the Chair”, for example, with consecutive lines about tiny cradles and tiny coffins painted white. “That one is about the stories my great-grandmother would tell about the pioneer days,” Howle explains, “when lots of people wouldn’t name their children until they were two or three because the death rate was so high you didn’t know if they would live or not until then.”
Apart from her recordings, Howle’s reputation to date has spread largely through touring and word-of-mouth about her engaging, spontaneous performances. Some nights, the lunacy of her tall tales may overshadow the music, but her stories are so much a part of who she is and where her songs come from that it would be inconceivable for her to perform without them.
Howle’s perspective is a refreshing change from too-serious folk musicians and alterna-folk pop stars; “From The Tops Of Trees”, the opening number on Catalog, addresses her unusual point of view in typically bent fashion. Rhapsodizing over a plucky, spare, yet beautifully melodic tune, she sings, “Mostly I just like to watch, I took in the peace I got/I like to watch the world from the tops of trees.” She comes down off those branches often enough to make wonderful, not so peaceful music — and tell a few stories in the process.