Three cheers for Howlin Rain, the first great side project release of 2006 with Comets on Fire’s Ethan Miller on vocals and guitar, Sunburned Hand of Man’s John Moloney on drums and Ian Gradek (some random iron worker) on bass and banjo. Howlin Rain may not be as off the handle or as furious as Comets on Fire but contains Miller’s whirling and buzzing guitar licks that are almost unilaterally scattered throughout the tracks, alongside some down home rustic smelting on an album soaked in Jack Daniels and Orange Sunshine LSD. While not a jam band per se, Howlin Rain will appeal to your patchouli-reeking friends who use the word “sick” to describe everything positive, as well as punk rockers and indie geeks alike.
Containing just the right spices of the early Doobie Brothers (before Michael McDonald soiled their sound) and Spacemen 3, Howlin Rain erupts the feedback in a tame manner on color-inducing down home ditties like “Calling Lightning with a Scythe” with plenty of liquid guitar licks trilling down. Meanwhile road tunes like “Roll on the Rusted Days” seem to say “keep on trucking,” of course, in the manner that Jerry Garcia might. With all the chiming fuzz going off left and right, Howlin Rain at times sounds like a bomb going off in a grandfather clock factory.
Miller’s voice is more chameleon-like, jumping octaves in certain songs while remaining recognizable when he delivers on the surrealistic pillow of “Show Business” over Moloney’s stoned tribal beats. On the blue-eyed psychedelic soul of “Indians, Whores and Spanish Men of God” one can actually hear the Marlboro Reds in Miller’s voice, which really adds a lot the band’s magnetism.
Many cluttered-up fits of wrangling free-jazz blasts randomly pop up throughout. Play “The Firing of the Midnight Rain” around any stoner over age 50 and they’ll be taken back to the days of dancing naked in Golden Gate Park with bushy jungle crotches and day-glo as far as the eyes can see…or that of catching a quickie in the mud at Woodstock. For the first time in probably 40 years, Howlin Rain is a band which truly lives up to the term “groovy.”
Grateful Dead – Anthem of the Sun
Apollo Sunshine – Apollo Sunshine
Quicksilver Messenger Service – Happy Trails