Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Howlin' Rain

The new project by Ethan Miller (Comets On Fire) and John Moloney (Sunburned Hand Of The Man) called Howlin' Rain can be succinctly summed up in two words: FUCK YEAH!. This is the second side project from brain damaging psychedelic bands to take a turn towards a pastoral classic rock sound. Phil Franklin (also of Sunburned) had released his Franklin's Mint album a couple months earlier, but these albums aren't really cut from the same cloth. As I stated earlier in the Franklin's Mint review that it's is a good hangover record, but the Howlin' Rain is a record to listen to while you're putting your body through what will cause you to be hungover the next morning. It has a hanging out at your friend's weird cousin's farm and drinking beer with your shirt off and blasting at your empty cans with shotguns and all the dudes have long hair and the chicks are wearing tank tops and cut off shorts and there's a barbeque and a bunch of dogs running around and at night someone rolls up joints on a Skynyrd album and everyone gets naked and jumps in the pond kinda vibe. They channel the same kind of energy running through early 70's Allman Bros. and Grateful Dead albums, but it's not without some of the Comets/Sunburned nastiness. (And say what you will about the Grateful Dead being boring hippie wankers. While in the mid-80's they turned into a parody of themselves and Garcia weighed 300+ pounds and was more interested in Haagen Dazs and heroin than remembering lyrics to songs he had been singing for decades, you can't deny that Workingman's Dead and American Beauty are some solid country tinged rock n roll albums). Ethan Miller's voice sounds like a red-lined, beat-up pick-up truck careening down a dusty road on a beer run, especially towards the end of "Death Prayer In Heaven's Orchard" and on "The Hanging Heart", the latter a blistering 9 minute plus epic with Miller dipping into his Comet's styled fuzzy freaked-out guitar tone. A couple tunes feature nice little touches of banjo, like on "Calling Lightning From A Scythe" before they wind themselves up into barbarous rock-n-roll abandon. Tim Daly brings the squalling saxophone sound that appeared on the Comet's "Blue Cathedral" record to a few songs as well, most notably on "Indians, Whores, And Spanish Men Of God", which also has the coolest bass line since Grand Funk stopped being relevant. The album closing murder ballad "The Firing Of The Midnight Rain" is one of my favorites. It's another one of the tunes that they're in no apparent hurry to finish up, with it's deep, head-nodding bass groove anchoring some guitar licks inspired by the aforementioned pair of Grateful Dead albums. In contrast to the gravelly vocals on most of the other songs Miller's voice is more soothing, and has an extended repetitive outro with the album's finest vocal harmonizing singing "all young men sleep easy / in the mud beneath the midnight rain / all love flows towards the ocean / with a smile upon my still face". And the second best reason to actually go out and buy this album instead of downloading it is the blotter paper worthy watercolor art work done by Arik Roper.

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