Release Date: Feb 14, 2012
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Blues-Rock, Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia, Hard Rock
The third album by this Northern California band is a raucous tangleof vintage bloodlines: the long-ride improvising and earthy-blues stomp of the Bay Area’s Fillmore-dance party age. The Russian Wilds is also singer-guitarist/leader Ethan Miller’s determined surge forward through that past. The evocations in "Self Made Man" and "Strange Thunder" of early Santana, Humble Pie’s heavy soul and the cosmic-campfire harmonizing of Crosby, Stills and Nash are propelled with bracing studio clarity and hot-live gig immediacy.
Howlin Rain frontman/guitarist and songwriter Ethan Miller emerges four years after 2008's Magnificent Fiend with a slew of new bandmates -- keyboardist Joel Robinow is the only holdover -- and working with Rick Rubin as executive producer. Howlin Rain are indeed a different animal than in their previous incarnation. The influences from the '60s and '70s remain even more abundant here, but are spread out in meticulously constructed songs -- even if they don't initially sound like it.
Howlin RainThe Russian Wilds[American Recordings / Agitated Records; 2012]By Johan Alm; March 1, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetIf you are listening to a record by Howlin Rain chances are you are looking for some high quality rock music of the type that had its golden age in the 1970s; if so you will no doubt be very satisfied with The Russian Wilds. It picks up where their 2008 record Magnificent Fiend left off, while at the same time being a bit more focused and polished. Usually those are terms that would indicate a drop in quality or a more mainstream approach when it comes to rock music, but that is hardly the case here.
There was a time when most rock bands would gladly have tossed their bass player off of a cliff for the chance to snatch a lock of Rick Rubin's beard hair, let alone coax the reclusive record producer and Def Jam label impresario into a studio. But the aspiring rockers of the post-file-sharing era may want to consult Howlin' Rain's The Russian Wilds, and then reassess whether or not courting the nation's leading rock'n'roll yogi is worth the time and effort. Crafted over a period of four years with extensive guidance from Rubin, the San Francisco quintet's latest full-length has all the tropes of a record-as-game-changer-- it's moody and duende-soaked, meticulously crafted, and sprawling in its ambition.
A long time ago, rock music ruled the world; it dominated the radio so much that nobody blinked when a five, or even 10, minute song became an inescapable, played-to-death ubiquity. Musical heroes staked their claim on the stage before retreating to coke and groupie filled tour buses, only to do it all over again the next town over. It was a time before sincerity and swagger were replaced with irony.
With ace producer Rick Rubin on their side, Howlin Rain could – and should – have made an entirely different record. Instead, ‘The Russian Wilds’ is a curious hybrid, channelling both Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Darkness On The Edge Of Town’ and Hendrix’s ‘Electric Ladyland’ into proper classic rock (‘Cherokee Werewolf’) moments, but elsewhere sounding a bit elevator music (‘Beneath Wild Wings’). Though Ethan Miller’s vocals are impeccable, they get lost in strange metaphors (“I staggered like a crow into the Empire”) and an excess of ideas – ‘Phantom In The Valley’ runs for close to eight minutes, taking in The Animals and merengue along the way.Ailbhe Malone .
The early 1970s hard rock sound (popularized by Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Aerosmith, and Queen, among others) left an indelible stamp on the music industry. In the decades since, literally hundreds of bands have taken a page or two from the originals. Unfortunately, the vast majority of acts amount to little more than redundant emulators who lack the diversity and songwriting of their influences.
It is too easy to call Howlin' Rain throwbacks, revivalists and derivative. That sort of reductive thinking has followed frontman Ethan Miller for years, right from his time in the more psychedelic and abrasive Comets On Fire, without really penetrating the substance behind the style. Miller's lyrics, melodramatic vocals and guitar playing deserve more than mere dismissal as pandering to the 60s.
Ethan Miller found cult adoration in the mid-00s with scorching psych-rockers Comets on Fire. When they went on hiatus in 2008, his No 2 band Howlin' Rain took over, starting out as a kind of cosmic Creedence before moving toward big, glossy, golden-age 70s rock, winning the patronage of kingmaking producer Rick Rubin in the process – and then taking four years to make this third album. In part, it's time well spent: there are convincing tilts at CSNY, 10cc and Santana's million-dollar sounds, and if you're at all susceptible to the joys of the guitar solo, they're here in gleaming, glorious abundance.