Thursday, 4 May 2006

Album Review: Howlin Rain

A supergroup of sorts, Howlin' Rain features Ethan Miller from Comets On Fire, John Moloney from Sun Burned Hand Of The Man and Ian Gradek on bass. Unlike fellow Comets On Fire alumnus Ben Chasny, for his latest release, Miller has elected to create an old-fashioned free-wheeling country rock album, but one which throws in a few crunching crescendos for good measure.

Most of the songs are straighter than might be expected from some of the defining members of New Weird America, but there's always a hint of eccentricity somewhere nearby. Calling Lightening With A Scythe begins as a sweet, Steely Dan impersonation before imploding for a minute with a flurry of fierce feedback. Later, the dusty opening to Roll On The Rusty Days mimics a trademark Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers number before Howlin' Rain lose their restraint and create a frantically apocalyptic ending to the track.

The band barely draws breath before they embark on the colossal, bewildering, nine-minute opus, The Hanging Heart, and Death's Prayer In Heaven's Orchard is indication that Miller is prepared to burden his already strained vocal chords with his best Bon Scott impression. He never quite reaches the same vocal highpoint, but, nonetheless, both tracks ensure the point has been made; Howlin' Rain will leave no page of the rock canon unturned. Later, Indians, Whores And Spanish Men Of God offers the rollicking, swampy rock of Creedence Clearwater Revival, while Show Business is a wilting ode produced to guarantee its winsome blemishes remain intact.

In Sand And Dirt - the least inviting song on the album - lies towards the conclusion, and is a more formidable proposition than the other tracks; Gradek's bass and Moloney's drums form a fearsome and imposing accompaniment to Miller's razor-sharp guitar. With that burst of darkness out of their system, the album closes with the nine-minute, Lynyrd Skynyrd-aping The Firing Of The Midnight Rain. It's the best song Ronnie VanZant's Southern collective never recorded.

According to Ethan Miller, Howlin' Rain "make music to beat the steering wheel of your van to or sing along with while drinking whiskey in the bathtub on a Saturday night with your dog". Remarkably, that's not too far wide of the mark. Howlin' Rain is a glorious and gritty album.

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