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The Sounding Board by R J Lannan
RJ Lannan is the reviewer for The Sounding Board.
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By Mike Howe
Label: Self Released
Lichens tracks
1. Into the Night
2. Remember
3. Joini
4. Plains
5. You Know Me
6. Mosaic
7. Lichens
8. Run
9. Firelight
10. Swim
11. Look Up
12. Summer Road
Melodious Growth
Lichens. Splotchy patches on a rock. Grey green, flat, no root system and they can live just about anywhere. That is lichens for you. And yet, they have a symbiotic relationship with the earth that goes back, well, to the very creation of the planet. Never bound by shape and environment, to me lichens are artwork for the eyes. Apparently, they are an inspiration to British guitarist Mike Howe, too. As an ecologist, Mike knows about the earth and her connections. As a musician, he is able to transpose those relationships into heartfelt music. Howe, on his fifth album, Lichens, composes twelve tracks of what he deems "wordless" music in a very appealing contemporary/light jazz/atmospheric style. He is the one-man band on the album, playing various guitars and percussion and taking on all the production duties. His music has a delicate flow, respectful to the balance in art and in nature.

Mike opens with a placid number called Into the Night. As I listened to this, I stood outside and gazed at the late night heavens. As the filmy clouds parted, I could see the stars pass in the sky, blazing jewels in the blackness of everything. Then I realized, I was passing them. I was so small in such a big place. Mike’s electric guitar music filled the voids with flow and melody. I felt not alone.

Remember is a gentle, drifting tune that eases the psyche into memory mode. It reminded me of one of my favorite times when they said it was going to be just a light mist and we got soaked. The sky was puffy and gray. We saw the muted green of the pines in the distance, and we held hands like schoolchildren. The serene music allows you reach deep inside and find your own memories with very little effort.

Plains, created with soft guitar and keyboards, is a tune that lets you take in the vastness of the prairies. On land that is flat to the eyes, it suggest endless, even oceans of grass and wild flowers. Nevertheless, there are swells and glens, bushes and trees that speckle the landscape. They make imperfections that give it texture. It is that substance that Mike produces with his gentle ballad.

Slightly upbeat is the song Mosaic. It has a strong bass line, nothing overpowering, just prominent. The melody is bright and cheerful as it suggest that everything is made up of many fragments and all those parts make a whole picture. Instead of tiny tiles or bits of glass, Mike suggests snapshots of our lives strung together like a video, colorful and full of storylines. It has lots of detail, but it is only when you step back that you can see the big picture.

Can you see lichens growing? You will have to devote some time to the practice and I think that is the point of the title tune, Lichens. Allow time to let things grow and develop, whether it be a garden, relationships, or the future. Be patient enough and your life will be rewarded with a wealth for the senses. Some fortunes cannot be held in your hands.

Oftentimes I am mesmerized by Firelight, and now I have Mike's song to add to the experience. I imagined crackling flames and colors of gold and copper. I thought of how firelight makes my love glow as if she is exuding energy from within. Her brown eyes catch every flicker, every reflection. And let us not forget the heat. She radiates heat like my own personal sun.

Mike Howe offers an album that continuously sustains a mood of quiet beauty and excitement. Every tune hides this little story. We need just listen and the story unfolds, excites us, calms us but most of all, they satisfy us. Howe is right. No words needed. Just an open mind and ready heart. Highly recommended.
Rating: Very Good +   Very Good +
- reviewed by RJ Lannan on 11/6/2015
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