Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
he Howlin' Brothers - this trio, in reality, contains no brothers - are about eight years into their career and on their fifth album. To say they've been under the radar screen may be an understatement. You couldn't even say they've been flying under that screen because they have stuck very close to their Nashville environs.
That was until "Howl," came out last month, an album in the top 15 on the Americana radio charts. Brendan Benson produced and put the disc out on his own label, Readymade.
And now the "Howl" title may be an appropriate one for this old time and bluegrass with a touch of country and blues part of the mix because they appeared ready to put some bark in their music.
The trio - Ian Craft on fiddle, banjo and most lead vocals; Jared Green on guitar, harmonica and vocals and local boy Ben Plasse on upright bass, some banjo and vocals - came off as a far less raucous version of The Avett Brothers. Despite just releasing "Howl," there wasn't an overemphasis on the new songs.
The band brought a lot of energy during the 85-minute set, often a function of the instrumental prowess of the group. Each member contributed mightily to the energetic outing. Craft was a sturdy banjo player, who coaxed some slide guitar type sounds out of the instrument. He duplicated that effort on fiddle, putting his stamp on John Hartford's Long Hot Summer Day, for example. The trio played out as well, time and again showing their musical chops (Katie Kline).
Craft also was the strongest vocalist of the group and a most capable front man. Plasse proved far stronger on backing vocals and harmonies than on the few leads he had, including a cover of Muddy Water's' Can't Be Satisfied.
The arrangements of the material also worked to the band's strength as they tended to offer a few twists and turns vocally and instrumentally in a bunch of well put together songs from throughout their career. The punchy backing vocals of Plasse and Green uttering the word "Gone" a bunch of times on that song made the song just a tad punchier. Throwing in harp from Green helped as well.
The Howlin' Brothers, who formed at Ithaca College, are touring extensively around the U.S. For The Howlin' Brothers, the long long wait was worth it. It's time to leave the radar behind