Every once in a while a band comes along and, like shaking a bee hive, sets the rock journalism world a buzz. It happened with My Morning Jacket, and Wilco. Next in that line is Howlin’ Rain, and just one listen to their latest relase, Magnificent Fiend, is all one needs to hear to comprehend how this band should be the next big thing.
A few seconds into the opening track "Dancers At The End Of Time," it’s immediately evident that this band is well versed in late 60s/early 70s rock and roll. Everything, from the harmony vocals to the squealing, feedback-laden guitar, to the wailing keys – it oozes classic rock, but in a fresh way because not too many bands these days are doing what Howlin’ Rain does. Frontman Ethan Miller (Comets on Fire) put together a solid group of tracks that are catchy rock songs in the truest sense of what rock used to be, and while the band may not have set forth to sound retro, they do but without the slightest bit of kitsch.
"Calling Lightning Pt. 2" is marked by the delicate keyboard work of Joel Robinow and the guitar work in the song’s refrain, and "Lord Have Mercy" is a masterpiece, wrought with imagery that’s both desperately morbid but retains inherent beauty.
The stand-out track, though, is "Goodbye Ruby." It charges ahead, building up steam through the inflections in Miller’s voice and delivery. It’s just a damn good rock song.
All things considered, turn this CD on, put on your headphones, and sit listen. The lyrics, the vocals, the playing. It’s all here. Stick these guys in a time machine and send ’em back a few dozen years, and Magnificent Fiend would easily be a chart-topping album when that actually meant something.
Today, though, Howlin’ Rain’s just a bad-ass band that’s put out one of the first great rock albums of 2008, and unfortunately they will probably never get the recognition they deserve.
Magnificent Fiend is out now on American Records.