If there ever was a group that named themselves well, it is The Howlin’ Brothers. Ian Craft (banjo, mandolin, fiddle, vocals), Jared Green (guitar, harmonica, vocals), and Ben Plasse (upright bass, banjo, vocals) hoot, holler, growl, and of course, howl their way through the dozen tracks contained on their new album, again appropriately titled Howl.
The production is impeccable, the music is a cross between modern blue grass and country, but the vocals are primal, looking back to the style that came out of the Appalachian Mountains and the swamps of the South. It all adds up to a well-crafted combination of old and new.
They are a basic acoustic string band that visits country-blues, blue grass, and even incorporates some Dixieland jazz into their sound. The bass serves the role of providing the foundation for the fiddles, guitars, and mandolins, while the slapping technique makes up for a lack of drums. The only song outside this simple concept is the album-opening “Big Time,” which features Allman Brothers guitarist Warren Haynes as a guest and co-writer.
The music and melodies are fairly catchy, as they have recorded a number of originals, a few traditional tunes, a John Hartford composition “Julia Belle Swan,” and “My Dog Can’t Bark” by Chicago bluesman Otis “Big Smokey” Smothers. The music is smooth and the sounds they create fit in well within a traditional country and blue grass style.
Everything changes when the vocals kick in, as they move the music away from popular forms of music into a territory that is rarely explored nowadays. It is a sound that emanates from the Jimmie Rodgers era of country music. Just think of an old-fashioned Hootenanny tucked away in some mountain community.
Songs such as “Tennessee Blues,” “Take This Hammer,” “Boatman Dance,” “Hermitage Hotstep,” and “Delta Queen” all take the road less traveled.
Howl is the fifth album by The Howlin’ Brothers, counting their 2012 live release Old Time All The Time, and they continue to evolve as a band. Their music may be a little different but is always interesting and entertaining, which is their intent.