Like a long-lost radio show from the ’50s suddenly coming to life on your radio in the late nighttime hours, this hard-driving string trio summons forth the sounds of old-time bluegrass, vintage country, and roaring rockabilly. The Howlin’ Brothers have one foot tapping time in tradition, the other kicking down the doors.
The howling here is courtesy of banjoist and bassist Ben Plasse, Ian Craft on fiddle and banjo, and Jared Green on guitar and harmonica. All three share vocal duties.
The trio formed at New York state’s Ithaca College and self-released four albums: Tragic Mountain Songs, Long Hard Year, Baker St. Blues, and the limited-edition compilation of live shots, Old Time All The Time. Then they signed with Readymade Records to cut their first label disc, Howl, which arrived in 2013, closely followed by an EP, The Sun Studio Sessions. Now they’re back. Call it inspiration.
This new album is a gumbo of influences. It kicks off with “Pour It Down,” a raucous, rocking call-and-response tune that sounds like a vintage Sun track. “Monroe” is a sweet, uptempo Cajun romp, while “World Spinning Round” is pure heartbreak.
Green picks his guitar with a fury. As testament, his Taylor acoustic is almost as worn as Willie Nelson’s famous “Trigger” – with an “extra” sound hole created by too much hard strumming.
“Hard Times” launches with a gorgeous banjo intro and more lovely riffs and soloing from all three. They’re joined on this tune (as well as “Sing A Sad Song”) by band fan Ricky Skaggs and his mandolin.
Trouble was produced and engineered by Brendan Benson, of the Raconteurs (who also added washtub bass on “Boogie”). The sound is suitably vintage – warm, woody, and intimate.
Throughout, the trio’s auspicious vocals are backed by stylish picking, but it’s the energy and soul here that make this music truly howl.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s October ’14 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.