Howlin Rain: The Alligator Bride
Since Howlin Rain’s early days, guitarist Ethan Miller has been shapeshifting. He built rock epics with Rick Rubin for The Russian Wilds. The world-weary Mansion Songs was inspired by beat poets and singer-songwriters. For the last few years, Miller’s been shuffling among his scuzz trio Feral Ohms, bass duty in the psych supergroup Heron Oblivion and solo ambient guitar journeyman work as The Odyssey Cult. The Alligator Bride recalls Howlin Rain’s earliest sound: a stripped-down, laidback, sun-fried California guitar rock. Yet, it’s informed by all the lessons learned since. Miller has put in his time with his current bandmates: guitarist Dan Cervantes, bassist Jeff McElroy and drummer Justin Smith. The songs are tight and deceptively simple; the changes are subtly complicated. “Rainbow Trout” opens the album with a lone boogie-woogie riff. Miller sings, then the band comes a-thumping in classic-rock mode. That pattern recurs across the record: a campfire fingerpick amps up verse by verse, climaxing in blazing dual guitar cataclysms that rub Cervantes’ blues riffage against Miller’s distinctive wham-bent squall. That’s true, too, on the proggier “The Wild Boys,” an ode to Southern California’s seedy inland underbelly. The record is also quiet and, at times, lovely—a collection of poems about the road and California home. On an exquisite revision of Leroy Carr’s “In the Evening,” heartsickness is not about a lover’s cheating, but, rather, a longing for the ocean, the mountains and the pines. The title track pays homage to that great California combo Crazy Horse. Still, while the early records felt colored with flavors comped from rock history, this sounds like Howlin Rain.