Howie Day

Romantic, sophisticated pop

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By Michael Norman  

How does a kid from Bangor, Maine, who paid his musical dues in Boston folk clubs become the hottest British pop export since Coldplay? For Howie Day, it all started six years ago with a self-financed album called Australia, which earned enough buzz to win him opening slots on tours with everyone from Sting to Sheryl Crow. That led to a deal with Epic Records, which soon sent Day to London, as in England, to work with a hot producer named Youth, who has partnered with everyone from Crowded House to Dido, and helped the Verve make their signature album, Urban Hymns.

The result of those London recording sessions was Stop All the World Now, an irresistible, sophisticated collection of hip, romantic pop that is likely to make Day a big star -- not in the sappy, empty mold of Clay Aiken or today's other Top 40 pop idols, but in an enduring way, like Dave Matthews or Jeff Buckley or the Finn brothers of Crowded House.

Stop All the World Now is a showcase of pure pop songcraft - from the beautiful, wounded simplicity of its first hit single, "Collide," to the anthem-like cry of "Brace Yourself," a love song that Day delivers as if it were a warning or an alarm.

As a producer, Youth takes Day's raw talent and builds a symphony of sound around the songs, employing everything from loops to a 25-piece orchestra. As he did with the Verve, he builds drama and interest with wall-of-sound arrangements that give the music a lush, orchestral feel. Despite his folkie roots, Day seems right at home in this layered world, belting out anti-romantic anthems ("Trouble in Here"), dishing the vitriol ("You and a Promise"), and leading us through other assorted orchestral maneuvers of the heart, and on a journey definitely worth following.

Michael Norman is Entertainment Editor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.