Hands Up; Release date: June 16, 2011
John Howie Jr., former punk drummer turned honky-tonk frontman for Chapel Hill's now defunct Two Dollar Pistols, has recently risen from the ashes to lead his new band, the Rosewood Bluff. Husky baritone and country twang still intact, Howie's latest, Leavin' Yesterday, shows how it should be done, country-style, with the singer bending notes as he glides around 'em in a comfortable, twangy warble. Although the music on the 13 Howie originals goes down easy, the subject matter is tough stuff. Howie seems to have considerable experience with heart attacks from a variety of country darlins. But he survives to tell the tales without whining, delivering meaty laments that are what country songs should sound like, not maudlin or trite. On "Last Great Guitar Slinger," Howie gets upstaged by a hotshot guitar player who makes off with the girl Howie's been trying to snag all night long. And, just like in the song, the Bluff's Nathan Golub does his best to steal the thunder and the girl on record with his slinky pedal steel riffs undercutting Howie's crooning. But Howie's voice puts him out on top — on the song and throughout the record. "That Makes 3 of Us" brings out Howie's inner Yoakum, a singer he admits he always admired. Howie channels Yoakum's whine in a Dave Dudley baritone with a George Jones attitude. "Handful Of Heartaches" recalls past Pistols' smokers as Howie and the Bluff honky-tonk their way through what should be a classic-country radio station chart-topper. Howie's back, and it's a real pleasure to suffer heart attacks with him once again.