Mountain. Led Zeppelin. AC/DC. These are bands that made us aware that the guitar can be the centerpiece of a band. Sure, the lead singer is vital to a band’s survival, but there’s something special about a band that is equal parts vocal and raging guitar. When Mountain exploded onto the scene with “Mississippi Queen,” the world took notice. When the opening riff roared out of your speakers, and you were instantly hooked even though at the time that heavy sound had barely been experimented with.
Here were are now 40 years later and our own guitar centric revolution is taking place. Of course, now we refer the genre as classic rock and Howlin’ Rain is making a case to be at the center of that revolution. Unlike bands like the Black Keys, Howlin’ Rain is infused with long solos at the core of their anthemic songs. Lead singer Ethan Miller, who has a similar vocal style to Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell, is strongly influenced by the aforementioned ‘70s bands.
What sets this album apart from their earlier work is that Rick Rubin is handling the production duties. It seems Rubin has been taking an interest in the indie rock scene over the past couple of years far more than in his early days when he discovered acts like the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and The Black Crowes. In 2009, he produced the Avett Brothers album I and Love and You, which was their major label debut and widely considered their best album to date. With songs that flow in and out of genres while not specifically staying to one tried and true style Howlin’ Rain show their devotion to no one musical God except perhaps the mighty guitar.
Songs like “…Still Walking Still Stone” are the epitome of their sound. The song begins with a subtle jazz piano, moves into the thrashing sounds of the guitar goes into a sassy ska beat and then goes back to the guitar. This is a band that is not merely intent on making an album. Howlin’ Rain wants you to know that they are in tune with their instrument (pun intended). It’s not enough to make put an album of 11 songs for the fawning masses to consume and digest. No, their intent is for you to either love them or hate them. There aren’t any lukewarm feelings when it comes to the San Francisco-natives.
With most bands I’d probably condemn the lack of lyrical acumen. That’s not to say that the lyrics here aren’t good, but they certainly aren’t the focal point. Howlin’ Rain wants to wail and they want you to wail right along with them. Throwback is far to cliché a term, they are like a band that was magically holographically sent from the late ‘60s and no nothing of our time. “We just came to rock.” That’s their mantra and it’s a fitting way to break out of the doldrums that some of our best artists seem to assuage us with on a monthly, weekly, daily basis.