Don't be confused by the fact that the Howlin' Brothers opted to make their bow on Brendan Benson's Readymade Records label. The fact is, "Howl" has nothing to do with the edgy pop stance that Benson has become known for, whether on his own or in cahoots with Jack White and The Raconteurs. Typecasting them based on Benson's reputation doesn't do them justice.
Yet, even though an association with an irreverent rocker may seem odd, the Howlin' Brothers - Ben Plasse (upright bass, banjo, vocals),
Ian Craft (fiddle, banjo, vocals) and Jared Green (guitar, harmonica, vocals) - still wail in their own way. "Howl" borrows from a traditional template, one that draws its inspiration from blues, bluegrass and the essence of authentic Americana. Brandishing long straggly beards, tattered straw hats and well-worn overalls, they make no attempt to conceal rich rural sensibilities.
Not surprisingly then, opening track Big Time reveals some obvious references, thanks to its rousing blend of banjos, fiddles, mandolin and ragtime revelry. It's a spirited sound to say the least, although it quickly morphs from there into other realms that embrace their string band style.
Hints of The Band surge through the song Delta Queen, while the boogie and bluster of Tennessee Blues and the jaunty, devil-may-care, happy-go-lucky strut of Just Like You play a major role in affirming the group's down home designs.
In an era where ostentatious attitudes are the norm and pretension is so predominant, the Howlin' Brothers provide a remarkably fresh change of pace in an old school setting. That unassuming attitude goes a very long way towards making "Howl" a real hoot.