That’s the best howl I can manage in print. But you ought to hear me really go for it when the Howlin’ Brothers are on the Victrola – or live on stage. One of the hottest bands on the strings and things circuit is coming to grace our stage and close our show as we return from a nice spring break. Next Wednesday the Loveless Barn will ring with the sounds that keep us grounded: banjo, fiddle, upright bass and uplifted, harmonically attuned voices. It’s a night of variety, spirit and a big surprise, which I’m told I can reveal not yet but soon, perhaps as soon as the end of this column.
It’s the classic overnight-success-that-took-ten-years thing with the Howlin’ Brothers. Ben Plasse (bass/banjo), Ian Craft (fiddle/banjo) and Jared Green (guitar/harmonica) met in college up in New York State more than a decade ago. They moved to Nashvegas in 2005, and they’ve played at all the banjo-friendly haunts in town while honing their thing. They’ve released a handful of recordings, but their current website and all their messaging is pointing y’all exclusively to their label debut. It’s called Howl and it came out on Readymade Records in early March.
Howl is a joyful railroad ride through the countryside, in the club car with a party going on. “Big Time” opens the disc with a four-on-the-floor blue stomper that invites the listener to join the guys as they go down South to “have a real big time.” That one features a guest turn by jam band legend Warren Haynes. And then I love “Julia Belle Swain,” an homage to the steam riverboat made famous by the late great John Hartford, with instrumental and rhythmic subtleties that suggest the guys have truly paid attention to the lessons of the great bowler-wearing guru of roots music. Shifting and enhancing the mood is “Tennessee Blues” with its smoldering swing, gorgeous vocals and tasty outside chords on electric piano and jazz guitar. “Tell Me That You Love Me” is psycho-spaghetti western grass.
The music bloggers are testifyin’ about the Howlin’ Brothers too. Our pals at The Bluegrass Situation named them Artists of the Month and offered this assessment, by Kim Ruehl: “Howl (is) a disc so universally appealing in its fierce energy and overall acoustic prowess, it can only be called Americana. There’s bluegrass in there to be sure, but also Dixieland and old time spirit, and everything in between.” The HoBros stopped by the IBMA the other day for a Backyard Bluegrass Session over at Bluegrass Nation. And CMT’s Edge blog notes the band’s flexibility and cohesiveness: “Swapping instruments and vocal duties with ease, the Howlin’ Brothers showcase a creativity and chemistry that translates to a fresh, familial sound. While they may not be actual siblings, their kindred musical spirits will have you thinking otherwise.”
We think you’re also going to love The Saint Johns. Boy/girl duo Louis Johnson and Jordan Meredith met in St. Augustine, Florida in 2008 and started a musical project named for a river there. The direction, by their own admission, wasn’t clearly defined at first. “We tinkered around with a few different genres and styles,” says Johnson. And Meredith offers this: “We’ve spent a lot of time trying to find our sound. It finally came together a little over a year ago when we decided to make the move to Nashville. We trusted the muse, and here we are.”
I don’t know what the muse was suggesting before, but the sound they found in Muse-ic City is a lush and enthralling one that’s capturing people’s attention all over the place. They recently landed a Song of the Week nod from the tastemaking WXPN in Philly. They made the very well selected Nashville Indie Spotlight album this winter.
And yes, there’s more. Our pals in the swirling, whirling world music band HuDost are back. Last I saw them they were satisfying the groove-lust of a bunch of music die-hards at Bonnaroo. They’re always enthralling for me. Roger Alan Wade will open the show with songs that can range from risqué to revelatory. He’s a big favorite around his East Tennessee base, and nationally folks seem to be recognizing his talents as among the finer songwriters in Americana.
And that surprise. I’m checking with headquarters. . . and. . . no, I’m not allowed to say yet. But watch the Twitter because it’s breaking news anytime. It’s a very “Nashville” development, but I’m not Gunnar give anything away before we’re totally sure.