Size: 117,2 MB
Label: Birdman Records
Styles: Classic Rock/Psychedelic Rock/Blues Rock
1. Death Prayer In Heaven's Orchard - 4:03
2. Calling Lightning With A Scythe - 6:15
3. Roll On The Rusted Days - 5:51
4. The Hanging Heart - 9:11
5. Show Business - 3:10
6. Indians, Whores And Spanish Men Of God - 6:27
7. In Sand And Dirt - 5:54
8. The Firing Of The Midnight Rain - 9:46
Ethan Miller – Vocals, Guitar;
Ian Gradek – Bass;
John Moloney – Drums.
Howlin Rain is the eponymous debut album by Howlin' Rain. It was released in 2006 on the Birdman Records label.
Howlin' Rain do a good approximation of Southern (California or NJ) rock modernized with noise-guitar Deus ex machina and one particularly jazzy bramble. Not your average Coors Lite crackers, the trio consists of Comets on Fire vocalist and guitarist Ethan Miller, Sunburned Hand of the Man shaman John Maloney on drums, and Ian Gradek on bass and banjo. Outside of the core, Comets contributor Tim Daly adds blustery and homey alto-saxophone and the ever-ubiquitous Tim Green plays a bit of keyboard.
The Arik Roper cover art, great as usual, just about nails the vibe: Pot smoke wafting out of a rural cabin into blue skies. Outside the frame, though, there's likely a flock of storm clouds fast approaching. Noisier tendencies personalize the formula: Think of "Truckin'" with fried tube amps, Allman Brothers' harmonies sideswiped by Monoshock, or CCR infused with heavy doses of Blue Cheer. Wordy song titles (e.g. "Death Prayer in Heaven's Orchard") also point to an ominous vibe not immediately apparent in the good-time hay-baling white-boy squawk.
If only it were all as brilliant as "Calling Lightning With a Scythe", one of my favorite tracks of the year. The wheat-field dramaturgy begins with acoustic strums, twangy banjo, and suitably bummer lyrics: "On Sunday I found your rotting bones/ Oh, my old friend, it's so hard to let you go." Amid increased guitar doses, now electric, and some horns, the protagonist takes a train, ponders ghostly arms, legs, and graves (plus a "picture of you smiling when you were young"), and finds himself "laying around in the wreckage of this beautiful little world." It's a jasmine-scented "Sweet Home Alabama" until the banjo warps and the guitar swerves out of tune, producing a beautiful, noisome solo. Eventually, the guitar doubles, bleeding across channels to tear it up even more enormously. They don't try to mix the eruption lower or blend the ferocious tracks; as a result, the guts and scars remain after the song's ripped apart.
Without such great structural interplay, "The Firing of the Midnight Rain", a nine-minute Steve Miller sorta thing, sweats decent whiskey beneath an old moon. As with a few of the tracks, there's precipitation, a solitary man, and days that "slide away, like mud." Olivia Tremor Control psych sighs go well with nostalgic imagery of wind breezing through the pines and sunburst characters drinking canned beer.
"Death Prayer in Heaven's Orchard" has its share of gooey rocker nougat and the closing trucker seance of "The Hanging Heart" strikes a good balance of ingredients, though on "Roll on the Rusted Days" or "Show Business," for instance, the guitars may sound Southern rock authentic, but they feel more like homage than personal statement. This happens a few times: Beneath a charismatic coating, the stuff can drag.
Another problem: Miller possesses a good voice, but avoids shredding his throat as much as he does with Comets on Fire. The lack of vocal variety can lull. Also, that Blue Cathedral-style sound's fuller and more frantic, allowing him to mate his howls with snarls buzzing around him. This seems particularly important: Howlin' Rain occasionally feels small even though music like this begs for eternal Nuge largess.
What's it all mean? The aesthetic's familiar and comforting, but not always compelling. The one great song and two or three good ones make for fine close listening. The rest, that more generic chaff, serve as a decent soundtrack for when you have the top down and find yourself driving nowhere in particular.