The Alligator Bride by Howlin’ RainRelease date: June 8, 2018
Label: Silver Current Records
For those who feel that the best years of rock happened between the years 1970-79, they will find a fellow soulseeker in Howlin’ Rain frontman Ethan Miller. Raised on the kind of music which was ubiquitous with FM radio stations across the United States, he formed the band as a means of recreating his beloved sounds. Much like Chris Robinson and his erstwhile Brotherhood though, he doesn’t let the music rest on its retro laurels and instead infuses it with an urgency which makes his albums sound so alive.
That urgency takes on a more chilled outlook on fifth release The Alligator Bride, which supplants the out and out riffing for a relaxed stroll down the highway of rock n’ roll. The punchlines remain, the jams are still there, but to the forefront are wonderful melodies, all built into a gleaming production reminiscent of the great AOR classics of the 70’s. That’s not to say that they take an easy route of simplistic verse chorus verse though, and the psychedelic roots of Miller’s previous band Comets On Fire are there to find if you look hard enough.
From the soulful opening of ‘Rainbow Trout’, as Miller demonstrates his impressive vocals, the impassioned beginning bursts into life with a driving bass pushing the keening guitar work ever onwards. With the music kept sparse, where the guitar was once a more prominent aspect, here it serves to colour with its wonderful little twists and jams, as MIller becomes the ringmaster.
‘Missouri’ is one of those songs which belongs in the pantheon of great rock songs, the kind which become ingrained within a musical consciousness. Of course, those days for rock are past, but the freedom to dream remains, all embedded in the genes of this song. It is that sense of freedom which drove all those earlier bands and their music, and Howlin’ Rain recognise that, and make it their own.
There also has to be the epic ballad, and ‘Speed’ serves as the ultimate response to the call and response lyricism that makes rock music so exciting. Ushered in on whispered vocals, it’s denouement is a glorious moment of explosive delivery begging to be roared out in the world stadiums. following this with ‘The Wild Boys’ is an extraordinary one-two as the music finds a sweet spot which has always seemed just out of touch on their previous releases. Here the band sound relaxed, rather than feeling the need to blow your socks off with riffs.
Of course, they can’t keep it too chilled and as the freak-out jam that takes us out of ‘The Wild Boys’ and into the Crazy Horse inspired title track, you can feel every inch of your rock and roll soul wanting to take to the street and yell out the lyrics. It’s a colossal sound all topped off with melodies which are made to make your heart and soul soar. When the wall of sound hits you it is the most beautiful feeling in the world.
The mellow vibe of ‘In The Evening’ brings a late night dark into proceedings before the epic ‘Coming Down’ brings us to a dramatic close. All yearning vocals and crashing music, it brings an excellent closure to what is yet another fantastic albums from the band. They may have held back on some of their more rockier aspects but in doing so, find a wonderful vibe. The relaxed nature of the album becomes its theme, and with it, we find a newfound pleasure from this most excellent band. If you want to know why rock music was so good in the 70’s you would do well to start here.