When Ann Doyle and Doug Howell return to the Ark Coffeehouse this month, they will open a new chapter in their long-standing musical partnership. Though they have worked together for years, Howell at the piano, Doyle singing and accompanying her own songs on guitar, this concert will mark the first time they will each do a set of their own material, with the other one providing backup. Doyle will feature her most recent, unrecorded songs, while Howell will sing from his new album of Jimmy Webb song covers.
Doyle is no stranger to the local music scene. She’s long been earning the affection of fans and the respect of fellow musicians for her finely crafted songs, inventive guitar playing and agile, highly expressive voice. Her 2003 CD, “Ready to Move,” was her first collaboration with Howell. Her songs on that CD were about travel, but also about inner journeys, chronicling voyages on which she matured and grew more aware, and understanding—in both senses of the word—of herself, of people and relationships. The new songs she will feature this month continue her ever-evolving explorations of similar themes. Doyle says, “I have traveled more this past year than ever in my life and these are songs from my journeys – both geographical and personal.” While Doyle’s songs often do spring from the personal, they evoke emotions and sentiments we can all recognize. “So far from home, I should be feeling so alone. My heart should be breaking, but I’m here in this moment.”
Howell is a somewhat less familiar figure on the local music scene, mostly because he’s usually served, as he has with Doyle, in a backing role. But, among his fellow musicians, locally and far afield, he’s long been known as a jack of all—and a master of all—musical trades. He is, among other things, a pianist, composer, arranger, orchestrator, conductor, and singer. His recording, “Jimmie and Me,” brings all these skills to bear. For starters, there is the gorgeous, perfectly balanced string section backing all the songs. Howell could easily have used a single keyboard to replicate an entire orchestra, (as is the common practice these days) but chose to use live players. Yes, you really can tell the difference! That one touch alone demonstrates Howell’s enormous respect and gratitude for Webb’s songs. But that’s just the icing. Add to that the most informative, beautifully written liner notes you may ever see, and Howell’s warm baritone and perfectly suited piano, lovingly reimaging Webb’s familiar and less well-known masterpieces. Howell’s careful studies of these songs, over a period of many years, yields enormously rich and layered versions. Jimmy and Me is subtitled, “Song descriptions from a master.” Howell is clearly referring to Webb, and is way too humble to claim the title of master. So, it falls to me to say every songwriter should be this lucky to have an interpreter such as Howell.
Ann Doyle and Doug Howell appear at the Ark at 8pm on Thursday, February 3, accompanied by Danny Cox on drums.