Album Review – The RJ Howson Band “Set It Free”
Written by Shawn Chisholm on November 3, 2016
Live Music Review: Set It Free by the RJ Howson Band
Set It Free is a collection of original music written by front man RJ Howson and performed collectively by Pat McDonald on drums (Charlie Daniels Band; RJ calls Pat the heartbeat of the band and the Bruce Lee of drummers), Chuck Riley driving the bass (formerly with Damon Fowler from Butch Trucks & the Freight Train Band; whom he compares to the likes of SRV, BB King and Buddy Guy), with RJ Howson on vocals & guitars forming the power trio of the band, also frequently joined by keyboard wizard Mike Kach (Dickey Betts & Great Southern) when his schedule allows him to perform with the group, along with occasional guest appearances by Berry Duane Oakley (son of the original Allman Brothers bassist), Garrett Dawson (from Butch Trucks & FTB), Pedro Arevalo (Dickey Betts & Great Southern) and Duane Betts (Dickey’s son). RJ describes the group as “like minded good souls sharing a spirit connection” through music.
I had the opportunity to speak with RJ about the album, his career and his personal views about music and its place in our world today.
He was quick to praise his band mates and is quite clear that this album is a musical collaboration, “These aren’t just good musicians (which they all are of course) but more than that these are guys that I connect with and we feel this music together when we play”. He went on to tell me that most of the album was recorded on a single day and in one take, underscoring that deep intense personal connection with the music and his band.
The album was recorded (at Red Line Studios by master engineer Jason Schmidt) using Eddie Kramer custom analog tape emulation technology (think Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles & the Allman Brothers Band) to achieve a vintage old school feel to the recording. The album was officially released on October 19th 2016 under Howson’s own label Spiral Resonance Ventures. The spiral logo is thematic for Howson, he says “the spiral represents a spiritual circle, not bound in a loop but rather set free”, this theme is also the foundation for the cover art on Set It Free.
Describing his youth Howson told me his father his father (who plays guitar, keyboards and drums) was a military man, enabling his family to travel the world. He describes his mother as a farmer’s daughter, a healer/poet. Both parents provided a solid foundation for his musical beginnings. He pursued a career in robotics engineering until 2005 when he cut his ties with corporate culture, moving to Chicago to pursue music as a full time endeavor. He states “Chicago was transformative and the older blues guys really showed me the way”. In 2010 he relocated to Florida,
where he currently resides, playing music full time and “following a sacred obligation to honor my balance”. RJ views music as a science with the ability to heal emotional wounds and bring great joy to listeners.
RJ shared his favorite quote:
Nikola Tesla “If you want to find the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”
The words “grateful” and “blessed” pepper his dialog, it’s clear that RJ considers himself to be one heck of a lucky guy; he told me “I feel like I have been hunting Bigfoot for 20 years… and I found him!”
In citing his influences RJ covers a lot of ground including Joseph Campbell (“follow your bliss”), the Dalai Llama (for blending the science and spiritual worlds with a childlike simplicity), and Jesus (the kingdom is within). Ravi Shankar and Albert King collectively for their influential string bending techniques (which he points out date back more than 5000 years), as well as personal advice he received from BB King as a young musician: to keep the blues alive “take what you like about what I’m doing, mix in something of yourself and keep it (the blues) going into the future”.
His most effusive praise goes out to the mentor-ship he’s received from Dickey Betts, in whom he finds great inspiration as both a musician and composer (Howson compares Betts to the likes of Beethoven for his ability to craft a memorable melody and support it with symphonic harmonies all while blending the genres of blues, gospel, western swing, rock and jazz), “My heart is on fire when I jam with him” he told me.
It’s sort of a “metaphysical science meets spirituality state of mind”. He went on to explain that when selecting the music for Set It Free “I wanted to make a CD to share some things I want to say. I’ve been writing for 20 years and playing for 30 so I have a pretty deep catalog of music to choose from. I chose songs with a happy vibe that would appeal to blues/rock/southern/jam music fans”. Happy vibe indeed! This collection is about love, devotion, strong women and loyalty all captured with great blues licks that will leave you tapping your toes and put a smile on your face. It’s an uplifting collection both lyrically and musically.
Now you may ask yourself, how do I get my hands on this CD? RJ says “come to a live show, contact us thru Facebook , or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and buy a physical copy. This gives the artist the 100% of the profit and also gives the listener a high quality listening experience (as mp3s really only give you 20% of the audio information)”. A new website, band merchandise and high quality downloadable versions will be launched sometime before Christmas”.