Howlin Rain Magnificent Fiend

Originally conceived as a side-project by Comets On Fire main man Ethan Miller and Sunburned Hand Of the Man drummer John Moloney in 2005, their first album as Howlin Rain found them letting both their hair and guard down. The result was a countrified psychedelic album that sounded like a mixture of early ’70s Grateful Dead and the Band, albeit with a sprinkle of noisy electronics. After a few quick tours, it appeared the band would fizzle away, but then a funny thing happened: Rick Rubin jumped on the bus. Apparently Mr. American Recordings fell in love with their self-titled debut and signed them to his label. Somewhere between then and now, Moloney jumped ship and headed back East, while Miller gathered a solid line-up and the one-time side-project became a full-time endeavour. Still proudly flying their freak flag high, the album straddles the line between barroom boogie rock and West coast psychedelia in an enchanting, engaging manner. There’s a lot of soul in Miller’s voice; it’s an earnest, dependable one that fits well within this context, arguably more than in Comets. The band gel more than on the debut, no doubt because they’re now a working band. It’s hard to pick one or two highlights, as it works together really well, but the band achieve maximum velocity on the final three tracks, all of which reach past the six-minute mark. Fans of Black Mountain are definitely encouraged to check this out. (Birdman/American)