The Howlin’ Brothers – Howl Review

Howlin' Brothers

This show might be old, but they are selling a lot more than medicine.



Readymade Records, 2013

8.0 / 10.0

Formed in Ithaca, New York at Ithaca College in 2003, the Howlin’ Brothers (Ben Plasse on upright bass and banjo, Ian Craft on fiddle, mandolin, and banjo, and Jared Green on guitar and harmonica; all three share vocals and harmonies) developed a fun, foot-stomping live show and an avid following in the Ithaca area, then decided to relocate to Nashville in 2005 and try their luck. After a handful of self-released records, the group hooked up with Brendan Benson (the Raconteurs) and set out to complete their first professionally recorded set. Howl was the product of that collaboration, and I’d say it did a fair amount of paying off.

Of course, the quickest comparison one will make to the Howlin’ Brothers is Old Crow Medicine Show. They are the only other contemporary act to really ‘make it’ while putting out music in tribute to this dusty period of Americana. While that is a pretty easy bridge to build, the most interesting aspects of Howl come from the ways in which this group deviates from the calculation. This is Old Crow Medicine Show for people that like a little more sweat on the microphone; the Delta Holler Funk, if you will. More than that however, the boys are willing to do a lot more playing around with influences on this record than one will typically hear in a ‘throwback’ record. You can hear elements of Jeff Tweedy (“Gone”), Dan Auerbach (“People Been Talkin'”), and even Dr. John with some dixieland brass (“Delta Queen”). Even when at their silliest, the brothers have something of interest driving the song (a Louis Armstrong scat vocal???).

As if any more proof were necessary, Howl‘s strongest moment comes at the point when the band deviates the furthest from what you would expect to hear. On “Tell Me That You Love Me”, the old country pickin’ is about the only old country aspect of the song. Combined with a modern pop song structure and off-the-wall haunting cowboy vocal harmony in the background (that also happens to fit perfectly), this track is nothing short of fantastic. In other words, the music on Howl is about as forward thinking as any backwords country record you’ll hear. The Howlin’ Brothers are using the Americana vehicle to drive something new without making it feel forced. They don’t sacrifice what makes roots music great, but they also avoid coming off like a cheap Wild West costume party. The result is one of the very few records so far this year that have me humming along after only a few listens. These songs will get stuck in your head, feet and ass quickly. For once, I’m actually thankful for it.

Key Tracks:
“Gone”
“People Been Talkin'”
“Tell Me That You Love Me”
“Mama Don’t You Tell Me”

Purchase The Howlin’ Brothers’ Howl

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About Chris Bell

Chris Bell was born in the suburbs of Kansas City, MO in 1981. His path toward a life enjoying music began at ten, when he first heard Queen. Chris attended Truman State University in Kirksville, MO, where he studied English and Communication Arts. While there, Chris spent three years working as an on-air disc jockey for 88.7 KTRM Radio. Chris was the host/creator of the weekly ‘Tangled Up In Bob’ show and a frequent guest on the station’s weekend talk format, serving as a guest commentator on music and politics. It was during this time that Chris was first published by the National Communication Association. His work, ‘Dylan and the New Left: How Political Song Changed American Political Rhetoric’ was presented at the 2002 NCA National Convention in New Orleans. Chris was the only undergraduate to present research on his panel, ‘Rhetorical Strategies in Music’. After college, Chris moved back to Kansas City and started his own talent management company, Poker Face Productions. He continued to manage that company until moving to Brooklyn, NY to pursue a business opportunity in 2008. While there, Chris started as a weekly column writer and album reviewer for 411music.com. Now back in the Midwest, Chris is hoping to bring what he learned about music media in New York to his hometown and support an already vibrant arts culture in Kansas City. His areas of concentration include American Roots, Glam Rock, Punk, Psychedelia, Chamber Pop, American Underground, and Garage Rock.

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