Straight to it: Howlin Rain's third album, The Russian Wilds is an out-of-the-box classic. A vintage style double album, it fulfills and expands upon the promise of earlier work, offering up a fundamentally perfect rock ‘n’ roll song cycle, a humming, utterly alive thing of blood, bone and muscle. There’s none of the cheeky obfuscation or clever sonic trickery common amongst modern bands to disguise compositional or musical shortcomings. Howlin Rain has no need to hide anything, and the confidence, ferocity and artfulness of The Russian Wilds harnesses and refines their already justifiably ballyhooed live presence into one of the most powerful, wide-ranging albums of the past few decades, a master work that howls and cries and laughs with gusto and enormous heart.
“There was a point when we were really trying to blend Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, Steely Dan’s Gaucho and Bruce Springsteen’s Darkness On The Edge of Town,” says bandleader-guitarist-singer-composer Ethan Miller, and the curious energies of this trio simmer in the subconscious of The Russian Wilds, though evident more in the eager creative reach, unshakable solidity and impassioned grace that runs in the veins of Howlin Rain’s latest. Boldness is another word that comes to mind, caught in the vintage Santana break on “Phantom In The Valley,” the hushed, peculiar sweetness and controlled power of “Strange Thunder,” the delicious pop sway of “Beneath Wild Wings,” and myriad other spots on the album’s eleven often lengthy explorations. Yet, none of it feels obscure or distant, each piece dotted with small touches that elevate the good to the great, a cumulative realization that one is in the presence of real gutbucket artisans, descendents of greats like the Love, Patti Smith Group and the James Gang (whose “Collage” gets a superb makeover on Russian Wilds), and kin to fellow New Cosmic California movement members Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound, Wooden Shjips, and Vetiver.
Miller, Raj Ojha (drums, percussion), Cyrus Comiskey (bass), Joel Robinow (keyboards, guitar, vocals) and Isaiah Mitchell (guitar, vocals) generate an elemental force together. It’s easy to pick up on in their electrifying live shows, but their latest album arms them with material that’s simply impossible to ignore, rock of such ground level rightness that it seizes and has its way with us – and we invite it back to do it again and again. What was already a good thing has reached the next level with The Russian Wilds, and the long hours spent in its preparation have already unleashed a string of buzz-generating concerts that mark Howlin Rain as a major surprise waiting to happen for live music fans, particularly during the summer festival season where they’ll be sharing the new songs with fresh audiences for the first time. - Dennis Cook