John Howie Jr. trades the barroom for the car stereo on Leaving Yesterday, the full-length debut with his new band, the Rosewood Bluff. The local music fixture is known for his velvety baritone, which he’s plied for years as the frontman of the Two Dollar Pistols. Though Howie never shied away from country-rock, he previously leaned harder toward George Jones-style balladry. He reverses the stance with the Rosewood Bluff. There’s still several fine slow-motion weepers, but they’re overshadowed by crackling up-tempo numbers more informed by Merle Haggard. Chief among these is “Last Great Guitar Slinger,” a tragic-comedy lament that finds Howie venting at losing his girl to a slick guitarist. The tune blends Howie’s skill as a canny heartstring puppet master with smirking wit and a foot-tapping number that belongs to ’70s country radio. “I’ve been working all night long trying to get you by my side,” he complains. “Johnny six-string comes along and he barely even tries.”
Give a lot of credit to Nathan Golub. While Howie and lead guitarist Dustin Miller do a great job giving the melodies a kick, it’s Golub’s plaintive pedal steel that steals the show, bringing great warmth and texture to the music. (Editor’s note: Golub is an employee of the Independent Weekly.) But the songs stand, too, like the propulsive, glad-to-say-goodbye title track, or “Trying Not To Think,” which boasts a ringing little Byrds-ish melody. The infectious “Dead Man’s Suit” tastefully deploys strings as the narrator walks the green mile of heartbreak. Of course, Howie can’t resist adding a salty aftertaste to your brew, offering his honky-tonk ode to the failure of “opposites attract” with “I’m So Happy I Could Cry,” and a purgatorial romantic triangle, “That Makes Three of Us.” While the sharpness of this set will hardly surprise anyone who’s followed Howie’s career, it’s still striking how nicely this disc works on repeat in the old car player.