Terrence Howard debut shows promise

Howard performed the movie's catchiest tune, "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp," which went on to win the Academy Award for best original song.

The actor didn't write that song, but he wrote, arranged, produced and performed on all 11 tracks on his debut album, "Shine Through It," making good on his longtime musical aspirations.

The album is a satisfying sampler of Howard's skills and varied influences. There are Latin rhythms, island beats, soaring strings and jazzy horns surrounding lyrics about love, life, youth and yearning.

Howard gets personal, musing about the power of love on the flute-and-piano tinged "Love Makes You Beautiful" and confessing his relationship sins on "No. 1 Fan." But he tends toward the dramatic, opening the instrumental track "It's All Game" with this deadly serious observation: "In every relationship, there's this factor of least interest involved, meaning the person least interested in maintaining it will dominate it because they won't compromise. Think about it." However, another instrumental track, "Spanish Love Affair," communicates all the drama it needs with flamenco guitars.

Howard is at his best on the upbeat songs that comprise half the album.

He invokes Stevie Wonder on "I Remember When," a carefree, harmonica-infused tune punctuated by a whistling choir. Whistles also open "She Was Mine," a song suited for a speakeasy with its groovy blend of keyboards, piano and walking bass. Cuban rhythms and bright horns enliven "Mr. Johnson's Lawn," while a hip-hop beat enhances the pop nature of "Plenty."

With a two-album deal in place, Howard's impressive debut sets him up to travel in any musical direction.
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