Sunday, January 20, 2008

But I Might Die Tonight

Howlin Rain, Magnif-
icent Fiend, Birdman/
American [3/4/08]

I've always believed your records should be something completely different from your live show. To me, it should be like a big Hollywood movie experience, where you don't want to see all the details, all the lit-
tle things that make it come together, you just want the result to hit you.
-- Ethan Miller on Magnificent Fiend

Howlin RainHowlin Rain
"Roll On The Rusted Days" (mp3)
from Howlin Rain
(Birdman Records)
Buy at Amazon

[I'll post an mp3 from the new album as soon as it becomes available.]

Magnificent Fiend , the second record from singer/guitar-
ist Ethan Miller's Howlin Rain, is a throwback to another time. Specifically the golden age of guitar rock. Though the group is based in Santa Cruz, there's as much of a groovy Southern vibe
to their sound as a jazzy West Coast one. (Miller is best known
for his work with fiery psych-rockers Comets on Fire.)

So, they play guitar rock or what
used to be called album-oriented rock, except you could just as easily call it organ rock. There's a lot of Hammond B3 on this thing, and guit-
ar + organ = two great tastes that go great together. (Alas, "organ rock" doesn't have quite the same ring.)

Miller's cohorts include guitarists Mike Jackson and Eli Eckert, bassist Ian Gradek, drummer Garett Goddard, and
multi-instrumentalist Joel Robinow. John Moloney
(The Sunburned Hand of Man), who played on their 2006
self-titled debut, has since returned to his original band.

As influences, the press notes namecheck the Grateful
Dead, Procul Harum, Vanilla Fudge, and the 13th Floor El-
evators (among others), so it's not as if Howlin Rain are
dodging references to the music of their formative years.

Funkadelic guitarist Eddie Hazel also gets a nod, but Bernie Wor-
rell (P-Funk's keyboard wiz) deserves a mention. In addition, I hear a dash of the Allman Brothers in the instrumental interplay and the Faces in the vocals (see "Dancers at the End of Time").

Further, I've been listening to Cat Stevens lately...and there's nothing unusual about that. On the surface, the American rock outfit has little in common with the British pop purvey-
or—Miller's raspy pipes certainly don't—but on "Riverboat" and "Calling Lightning Pt. 2" ("Lord, have mercy on my soul/have mercy on my soul"), they evoke his harder-edged material, like the organ-drenched "But I Might Die Tonight" from Tea for the Tillerman and the movie Deep End.

I can't claim much familiarity with Comets on Fire or How-
lin Rain's first recording, but their follow-up scratches
my itch for first-rate guitar rock. I've listened several times
now, and it sounds better with each spin. These guys aren't
exactly reinventing the wheel here. Rather, they're perfect-
ing and refining it. Magnificent Fiend distills the heyday
of freeform radio onto one convenient disc.

Cross-posted at

Endnote: Black Mountain and Howlin Rain play Neumo's on
Thurs., 1/31. For more information about the band, please see
their official website. For more info about the Northwest Film
Forum screening of Jerzy Skolimowski's Deep End—my favor-
ite film of the year—click here. Images from the Howlin Rain My-
Space Page
(starting with Comets-era Miller at LA's Arthur Fest).

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