DANNY R. PHILLIPS
Lately, when a band is referred to as “Americana,” “neo bluegrass” or anything about a mandolin, banjo or upright bass gets a mention, it makes my skin crawl and my mind shuts down. I instantly do not care. Bands like Mumford and Sons, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Avett Brothers, Punch Brothers or any other brothers for that matter, while good in their own right, have spawn so many “bluegrass” bands that if I hear “Wagon Wheel” again and it’s not Old Crow Medicine Show, I’m going on a rampage of biblical proportions.
Therefore, when the Howlin’ Brothers latest Trouble arrived in my mailbox, I readied my bile. I sharpened my razor tongue, ready to rip it to shreds. Then I pushed play. Clearly, the Howlin’ Brothers are not just doing it because they want to cash in on a “cool” hipster trend. Their grasp of both the traditional aspects of the genre they have chosen and an obvious love of rockabilly rings true in every harmony, note and lyric. Within seconds of the opener “Pour it Down” begin to spin, I could just as easily hear Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, The Carter Family or even a contemporary like BR-549 laying it down as I could these boys from Tennessee.
Therein lays the joy of Trouble. The record is effortless, nearly timeless; it’s light, but at times, like every bluegrass record worth its salt, is dark in equal measure. Moreover, like other bluegrass outfits of old, the lead vocalist position is passed throughout the band, often from song to song, giving others a chance to sing songs they contributed or would be the strongest with.
Many of the songs are tight and polished but do not think the Brothers can’t get loose and rough; “Night and Day” is more blues than grass. The Ian Craft-penned jammer could’ve easily been recorded at the legendary Robert Johnson session. There is pain, rattling percussion and harmonica to spare. A true standout.
“Troubled Waltz” is a slow tune with much shade. “I’m troubled all the time,” sings the broken Ben Plasse, in a song that sounds like a man that has given up, a man going to his death, a man that cares no more to see the sun.
Without a doubt, the Howlin’ Brothers understand atmosphere. Trouble is an album full of change, darkness and light. They have slapped the perfect name on the record; it is tales of sorrow and redemption, pain and love. That’s what life is isn’t it? Going through the ruts to get to the valley, putting up with thistles to get to the roses.
DOWNLOAD: “Pour it Down” “Pack Up Joe” “Troubled Waltz”