Ben Howard Every Kingdom

Being on the same label as Anglo folk-rock greats Nick Drake and John Martyn has raised expectations around young English songsmith Ben Howard, an artist clearly influenced by those two legends. The label has even given this debut disc the three-CD/DVD bonus edition treatment, clearly hoping for the kind of breakthrough the overrated Mumford and Sons scored on this side of the Atlantic. Thankfully, Howard eschews the bombast of that group in favour of a subtler approach, and the results are pleasing. Still, he does rather over-ornament and extend a few songs ("Diamonds" and "The Wolves," for instance). He's a fluent guitarist and is nicely accompanied by multi-instrumentalists Chris Bond (who produced) and India Bourne, whose harmony vocals and cello work help flesh out the sound. It'd be no surprise if full-blooded and hook-heavy single "Keep Your Head Up" scores airplay here. Like so many Brit folkies, Howard is heavily into the imagery of nature and the wilds, so his songs are populated with birds, wolves, horses, woods, rivers, storms, oceans and lighthouses (the album was recorded in a crumbling barn). His deficiencies as a lyricist are compensated for by a very easy-on-the-ear singing voice. (Island)