Most audiences know Anthony Howell for his work as a sideman, playing banjo for groups such as Williamson Branch and the Edgar Loudermilk Band. His latest solo release, Hold Back The Dawn, spotlights Howell’s aptitude on all of the bluegrass instruments, as well as his abilities as a vocalist and composer.
The project opens with Michael’s Prayer, one of three instrumentals written by Howell. This piece along with the tune, Serenity, have a soothing, gentle nature about them. Wilson County Breakdown is a driving track which features Anthony’s tasteful banjo playing as well as solid mandolin and guitar solos.
The other tracks on this album come from a wide array of sources and feature a great variety of vocal talent alongside Anthony. Midnight On The Stormy Deep has been recorded by scores of bluegrass artists over the years. Here it is performed by Robert Montgomery and Alan Sibley. This performance sticks closely to the arrangement recorded by Bill Monroe in 1966.
Matthew 24 is one of a few different gospel songs featured on the project. This track features Howell’s current bossman, Edgar Loudermilk, on lead vocals as well as his bandmate Zack Autry on tenor vocals. Anthony sings both the baritone and bass parts.
Little Bessie is a traditional folk song that’s patterned after the rendition recorded by the Country Gentlemen in 1971. Marty Hays of David Davis & The Warrior River Boys does an exceptional job singing the high lead vocal on this track. Don Robinson of Magnolia Drive and Howell provide the harmony vocals.
Salt River Canyon was written and first recorded by Anthony’s former employer Kevin Williamson his 1993 solo album, Write Between The Lines. To retell the captivating fictional story set in the wild west, Williamson is joined by Shawn Lane on tenor vocals and Howell on baritone vocals. It is truly a standout performance.
Grandfather’s Clock is a song widely known in traditional music circles, yet it’s performed here unlike any other rendition that I’ve heard. Featuring Marty Hays on lead vocals, with Anthony providing accompaniment on fingerstyle guitar, banjo, and mandolin, this piece is played in a slow gentle fashion allowing the listener to fully digest the clock’s somber tale.
When I’m Dead My Dearest is a nineteenth century poem that’s been converted to song and performed here as a contemporary bluegrass song. Featuring vocals from Judah Buggay, Don Robinson, and Howell, this track also demonstrates Anthony’s strong ability on the dobro.
Hold Back The Dawn is a fine demonstration of Anthony Howell as a multi-instrumentalist. It’s also clear from the track listing and supporting cast that he has a great ear for selecting material and vocalists that best spotlight his talents as a musician and singer.