Howlin’ Rain –The Russian Wilds
By Ben Allen
The Russian Wilds is a pure delight and the year’s first great album.
The latest offering from San Francisco band Howlin’ Rain, it’s the big rock record every musician wishes they had the time and resources to make: a flashback homage to the classic rock sounds we grew up with, only retooled with shredding guitar riffs, gospel vocal accompaniment, and unbelievable instrumental variety and arrangement.
Brutally honest and passionate, it’s like a time machine brought back the rocking tunes from a time when life was simpler, but they’re amped up to an epic pitch, thanks in part to production by Rick Rubin. There are so many layers to all the tracks, I hear something new on every listen, and the rich textures put me at such ease that I find myself involuntarily shaking my head to brutal rock riffs that repeatedly dive back into the gentle sways of an old friend singing your favorite song. All the songs have a mighty weight to them which demands your attention, while balancing intricate respites that lull you into softness, only to be punched in the mouth with more rolling thunder.
The lyrics on The Russian Wilds are beautifully contemplative and wonderfully obscure, so after repeated listening I still find myself pleasantly trying to figure out the meaning of some wild tangent or obscure metaphor. Lilting vocals giving way to pounding rhythms that build into anthems that have you singing on the first listen is the overriding rule. And the vocal work by front man Ethan Miller is outstanding throughout.
It gives me a good feeling to know that musicians were able to come together and record this album. It seems like about as much fun as you could possibly have making rock music. – (9/10)