Howlin Rain is the psychedelic country/garage rock side project of Comets on Fire guitarist Ethan Miller with Sunburned Hand of the Man drummer John Moloney and bassist Ian Gradek -- described as an "iron worker." If sunshine visions of a West Coast acid-drenched flannel-garbed truck-stop confab hanging out and letting it rip are your thing, then this one's for you. For a defining moment, one need not go any further than "Calling Lightning with a Scythe." While the cut opens with strolling banjos and shuffling drums as acoustic and electric guitars gurgle in a midtempo country ramshackle choogle, the tension begins to build until about three minutes in, when the laid-back hedonism gives way first to empty space and detuned slide guitars that explode a few seconds later into pure squalling psych overload guitar chaos -- as the acoustics continue to strum the melody, of course. If anything, this music reminds one of the greatest country-fried moments of Tucson's Giant Sand, but drenched in post-rock humidity. There's also a bit of the Grateful Dead in here, but make it the Dead of the American Beauty tour -- guys who still understood what rock & roll was instead of noodling themselves to death. Miller's a ragged-as-hell lead singer, but it works splendidly for this material. These songs are loose and shambolic but well crafted; other favorites are "The Hanging Heart" and "Indians, Whores and Spanish Men of God." The overall feel is a bit reckless but utterly lyrical. This isn't alt-country; it's dope-fueled country-rock -- perfect for the acid folk generation who like their genres mixed up -- produced by the band and engineered by Comets on Fire boardman Tim Green, with sax on a few cuts played by Tim Daly (who guests regularly with the Comets). This is rough, woolly, and utterly hummable music that wears its mange proudly but not pretentiously. Howlin Rain's debut is rather timeless. It feels like it could have come from anywhere in any present rock era and that's one of its strengths. In five or ten years you'll still be scratching your head as to why it sounds both so timely and dated. Highly recommended.
Howlin Rain Review
by Thom Jurek