Howlin’ Rain is nothing if not a rock band, in the truest sense of the word. A true throwback to the ’70s, they make their bones on big guitars, big vocals, and big jams. Under The Wheels: Live From the Coasts Vol. 1, their latest live album, is a snapshot of a band doing what it does best.
The album beings with “To The Wind,” an instrumental, 10-minute long opus of pure rock bliss. Jeff McElroy’s Phil Lesh-esque bass line drives the song along until Ethan Miller and Dan Cervantes drop in and pepper the tune with their psychedelic, distortion-heavy guitar work, and the song devolves into a cacophony of rock. It’s a strong start to an album, and if that track really did open a live show like it opened the live album, it probably scared off some of the non-indoctrinated. This is Howlin’ Rain – get your ass on board, or get the hell out.
“Missouri” follows, and listeners get their first taste of Miller’s vocals, which really do have rock frontman written all over it. The track’s got a big stadium anthem quality to it, fit for a summer festival. “Death Prayer in Heaven’s Orchard” follows, and the band gets back to dueling, effects laden guitar with some tasty slide work from Cervantes.
The standout track is “Goodbye Ruby,” which really shows Howlin’ Rain at their best, from Miller’s vocals to the guitar drenched in wah-wah pedal. The song builds until it crescendos into Miller and Cervantes sync their guitars up, playing in unison.
“Coming Down,” the last track, serves as a reminder that the band can deliver delicate songs as well as balls-to-the-wall rockers. The band settles into a nice groove mid-way through, ramping back the volume back up towards the end with a lick reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” Maybe it was an intentional nod, or maybe it was just the band unconsciously channeling their forefathers of rock.
So many bands are at their very best on stage, and a live album is a mere glimpse at where a band is at a moment in time. If Under The Wheels proves anything, it’s that rock and roll isn’t dead, and Howlin’ Rain is currently carrying the torch high.
Howlin’ Rain’s Under The Wheels: Live From the Coasts Vol. 1 comes out August 30 on Silver Current Records.