when the dust clears

Words about and images of matters political, social, and military

Danielle Howle’s Unadorned Heart

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Almost 20 years ago, I was living in DC, working as a staff photographer for US News and World Report and spending entirely too much time at the Clinton White House and on Newt Gingrich’s Capitol Hill. On a whim—and a desperate need to get out of my District of Corruption rut—I veered away from my usual watering holes to hear some live music by Ani DiFranco, a performer I’d heard some buzz about. I knew little about her, only that her style might challenge my taste for world music, noisy stuff (from X and, I must admit, Pantera), and (intelligent) hiphop. I knew absolutely nothing about the opening act, a young lady called Danielle Howle.

A waifish, unglamorous, unaccessorized Howle stepped into the tiny pool of light in the dark space, started strumming her guitar, and sang. Her voice was powerful, soulful, and countrified in an honest, not affected way. Howle’s songs were rich—but not sweet—and even old-fashioned, in spirit, though not in style. Howle could sound hurt in a song, but never victimized; there’s wound-licking, but no supplication or defeat. She was rock, C&W, folk, gospel, and it all sounded organic.

Howle told funny, sometimes self-deprecating stories between songs. The audience laughed. I laughed. But mostly I smiled, throughout the set, and as I walked home—no disrespect to Ani, but I left before she and her band hit their stride—less beered-up than usual and so much happier. Howle was a rarity—musically gifted, humorous and humble, plus ground-truth, open-your-heart-to-strangers real.

She played a few gigs in NYC, at CMJ and in East Village clubs. Howle was dead last on a lineup of young indy singers at the Fez, a performance space under the long-gone Time Café on Lafayette Street. It was a Sunday night. The show was running annoyingly late. I watched the crowd. More than a few people glanced at their watches, polished off their drinks, and started toward the door. Howle took the stage, opened her mouth. Music came out; they stopped in their tracks. I knew this would happen.

I met Howle a few times, even asked her to write some songs for my documentary. That didn’t work out because her music was too good—and by “good” I mean the opposite of evil, bleak, hopeless, which is how Iraq made me feel, how coming home to political posturing and saber-rattling made me feel, how turning on my computer and reading about dead and wounded made me feel. At the time, I believed that such goodness and soulfulness had no place in my film. I didn’t have a whole lot of space in me for it.

We lost touch, but she’s still making music, laughing, and being poetically nuts. She’s nurturing up-and-comers, living and making music sustainably (look here to see what I mean). I just watched a video of Howle singing about the Lake Murray Dam while strolling along a highway and playing her guitar. A couple of speed-walking ladies taking care of some cardio business dip into the roadway to make a wide loop around her. A motorcycle, most likely a Harley, rumbles and farts in the background. And Danielle sings. It’s all of a piece, and she’s the heart of it.

Listen and watch when you have a few moments.


Written by bxpnyc

2011/12/10 at 11:07

One Response

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  1. Nice way to start the day. Thanks, Brian. And thanks, Danielle.

    Bari George

    2011/12/11 at 08:16

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