Experiences are snapshots in time, creating connections vibrating with memories of sounds, colors, and emotions. That is, if we are passionate enough to authentically embrace each moment, immersed in its reality. Howlin Rain knows a little bit about that zen-like state of perfect improvisational freefall, inviting fans to come along for the first in a series of live records called Under the Wheels: Live From The Coasts (Volume 1).
The runtime of only five tracks is somewhat misleading at first glance, as this album often puts the listener at the show, experiencing an energy exchange between audience and musicians. With a no-holds-barred approach to this recording, founding member Ethan Miller’s label sets the stage to create a strong live record. Plucking from recordings coast to coast makes a musical journey for fans such as myself who have yet to experience a Howlin Rain show. Live records allow acts to embrace their improvisational side, and for Howlin Rain that’s a thread that runs through the essence of the band.
Kicking it off with “To The Wind” as sound echoes against the crowd is a brilliant move. Expansive, dramatic, and freeform in its expression, this is jam rock at its finest. The track brings to mind great live albums like The Allman Brothers at The Fillmore. Let the purposeful chaos begin.
From Miller’s soaring vocal delivery to the lush embrace of backing vocals, there is no doubt why “Missouri” made its way on to Volume 1. This anthem now adds the beastly shred of Miller and Dan Cervantes’ live electric guitars, and there is no mistake–this is a Howlin welcome home.
“Goodbye Ruby” rolls effectively from backline to screaming guitars. Spontaneity oozes from this well-calibrated southern rock; Jeff McElroy’s bass is particularly strong. His backline partner Justin Smith creates an intoxicating mood with his drums. It’s wicked cool and makes it easy to imagine being there.
Volume 1 fittingly and predictably closes out with downtempo ballad “Coming Down,” signaling to fans that the party’s over for this installment. This ethereal psychedelic space is artistically stellar with outstanding guitar work.
There are a few moments that show the inevitable limitations of live jam band recordings. The live energy of “Death Prayer in Heaven’s Orchard” doesn’t come across to me on this recording. Without experiencing the vibe and energy of a live show, some moments dance along the line of self-indulgent performance when recorded. And wouldn’t the release of a full live collection reflecting a true improvisational concert experience with Howlin Rain been more effective? I think so; now listeners are stuck waiting. However, the good news is that the second installment is due soon, out sometime this fall.
Despite minor problems, a creative improvisational thread runs through the first installment of Howlin Rain’s Under the Wheels: Live From the Coasts. And maybe anticipation is a good thing! Waiting for more music from Howlin Rain may send people back digging into a thirteen-year discography of the band in preparation for the release of Volume 2.
Volume 1 drops August 30 via Silver Current Records, offering up all the regular versions plus a trademark limited edition and deluxe/special edition vinyl. –Lisa Whealy
Howlin’ Rain Tour Dates
8/28 – Los Angeles, CA – Moroccan Lounge
8/29 – Costa Mesa, CA – The Wayfarer
8/30 – Pioneertown, CA – Pappy & Harriet’s
8/31 – Pioneertown, CA – Pappy & Harriet’s
9/5 – Felton, CA – Felton Music Hall
9/6 – San Francisco, CA – The Chapel
9/7 – Reno, NV – Reno as F*ck
9/12 – Chico, CA – Argus Bar