Artist: Howlin’ Rain
Album: Russian Wilds
Howlin’ Rain’s latest venture is a sometimes slightly-too-soulful romp in the 70’s rock tradition. Thankfully, Howlin’ has always managed to stay way from the retro- regurgitation of so many other current rock bands, who seem to feel that the best way to save rock n’ roll is to reproduce the riffs of yore with exactitude, coming up with results that sound, at best, like anonymous anachronisms. Howlin’ Rain is a band of twenty-first century with acknowledged debts to previous decades, players of quality who know that the guitar solo still has its place, and who also know that it’s okay to be influenced by
Led Zeppelin without trying to become Led Zeppelin.
Rick Rubin’s touch is on this album, perhaps not directly on the knobs in the engineering booth, but certainly as a pair of ears in the songwriting process. It’s difficult to say how exactly the great bearded producer helped to shape Ethan Miller’s writing process, but it’s clear that paring/stripping/shortening were not priorities when it came to helping these songs reach their final form. Of the nine complete songs on the album, only one is less than five minutes, and a couple are in excess of eight. This is a refreshing characteristic in a catchy rock album, but it’s not always a great thing; at times, the lengthy jam-outs at the end of tunes evoke a less-frantic but still-distracting version of the
songs on The Mars Volta’s first LP, a misstep that’s perhaps most evident in the ranchero wailings that close out the song “Phantom in the Valley.”’
Miller’s vocals sometimes tend too far toward careworn white soul to work against the production, which may be a bit too glossy to offset his crooning. Having seen Howlin’ Rain live a few times, I know that this a flaw of the recording, not of the players: these guys are a jagged, tight machine live, and every element of the intstrumentals and vocals meshes ideally, a reliable characteristic that I’m looking forward to seeing applied to the songs on Russian Wilds.