Terrence Howard - Shine Through It (2008)

Terrence Howard
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So this is the type of music Terrence Howard wanted DJay, the pimp he played in the movie Hustle & Flow, to sing. Craig Brewer, the guy who directed the film and wrote the screenplay, told the story of how Howard pulled out his guitar and started strumming away during some down time on the set. Brewer said he was impressed, but maybe he should have kept that to himself. Howard soon started lobbying the director to turn DJay into a frustrated acoustic guitar playing, singer-songwriter pimp as opposed to a wanna be hard-core rapper pimp. Brewer - in one of those rare moments when the commercially correct decision also happens to be the artistically correct call - said no.

So this is the type of music Terrence Howard wanted DJay, the pimp he played in the movie Hustle & Flow, to sing. Craig Brewer, the guy who directed the film and wrote the screenplay, told the story of how Howard pulled out his guitar and started strumming away during some down time on the set. Brewer said he was impressed, but maybe he should have kept that to himself. Howard soon started lobbying the director to turn DJay into a frustrated acoustic guitar playing, singer-songwriter pimp as opposed to a wanna be hard-core rapper pimp. Brewer - in one of those rare moments when the commercially correct decision also happens to be the artistically correct call - said no.

Howard would have to wait awhile before finally scratching that singer/songwriter itch, but there was never any doubt about whether the itch would be scratched. The only question is whether Shine Through It would be hailed as a great piece of musical art, or consign him to be this generation's Eddie Murphy. Howard is far too serious a guy to release a vanity record that will end up getting parodied until cockroaches rule the earth.

Still, Shine Through It is not universally loved. I checked some of the customer reviews on iTunes, and the consensus is - actually, there's no consensus - the listeners either love Shine Through It or they loathed it. What that reaction tells me is that the virtues and vices of Shine Through It are pretty obvious from the first listen.

First, the virtues. Howard, who wrote, co-wrote and produced every track, is an excellent lyricist, storyteller and arranger. He displays a comfort in creating music at a variety of tempos and multiple musical styles that range from the Flamenco influenced "Mr. Johnson's Lawn" and the mid tempo "Shine Through It," in which Howard showcases his skill on the acoustic guitar. Howard displays his chops as a wordsmith on songs like the pain filled ballad "No. 1 Fan," and proves he can tell a nice story on "I Remember When." Howard can also shows that he can make message music that is compelling lyrically and downright funky on the tunes "Plenty" and "War."

Judging from the iTunes posts, Shine Through It had one flaw. However, the flaw was major one - Howard's singing voice. I must say that I agree with the critics - to a point. Howard's vocal instrument is limited. To me, that is more of a problem on the slower tunes, such as "Love Makes You Beautiful." Ballad singing often serves to separate the men from the boys vocally, and Howard's raspy voice sometimes strains when he tries to move too far out of his vocal range. However, that vocal quiver actually adds a sense of vulnerability to a slow jam like "No. 1 Fan," which tells the story of the regret the singer feels when his lover leaves. Howard's limited vocal range isn't a problem on the up-tempo songs, and two of the stronger efforts - "Spanish Love Affair" and "It's All Game" - are actually instrumentals.

Despite Howard's fair to middlin' vocals, Shine Through It has more plusses than minuses. Those who don't find the voice to be a distraction will find Shine Through It to be a well-written album lyrically. Musically, Howard shows that he can put down a bunch of solid grooves that manage to avoid falling into a rut. And at the very least, Shine Through It will get the guests at your next dinner party talking.

Howard Dukes

 
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