Howlin Rain – Magnificent Fiend

Howlin Rain
Magnificent Fiend

Rediscover the soul of rock and roll. Listen to Magnificent Fiend.

On paper, Howlin Rain are nothing special: they have beards, know classic rock, play music in California and probably shop at thrift stores. But most bands fitting this description capture audiences with pop-rooted hooks, folksy sincerity or psychedelic sing-alongs. Howlin Rain’s weapon of choice is soul.

Magnificent Fiend‘s strengths won’t surprise fans of front man Ethan Miller’s other band, Comets on Fire. Nor will it awaken listeners of some bands New Weird America. But this album is a feast for the uninitiated.

Howlin Rain is a sextet out of Santa Cruz, California. Their sound is classic rock revival, at once Southern and West Coast. Refreshingly familiar, Magnificent Fiend churns out hippie spirit and bluesy soul with great execution in 8 solidly produced tracks. A Hammond B-3 organ is the elephant in the room. Joel Robinow eeks lots of soul out of that organ, and every key is mixed front and center with Miller’s raspy, spot-on vocals. These tracks are always rich, even when stripped down.

Opening track “Requiem” is filler, but not a waste. It’s a deep breath before the band hits with “Dancers at the End of Time”. That barn storming Hammond couples with generous chord changes and riffs. Later the bass ushers in a breakdown, and things draw to a close with a wah-wah filled guitar jam. The enormity of this track is an anomaly; no other song on the album matches the energy. But the remaining songs make up for it in other ways.

Track 3, “Calling Lightening Pt. 2” slows it down with a simple song structure. Then “Lord Have Mercy” grooves a while before burning it up at the end. The album down shifts again as “Nomads” paces a steady jam with solid guitar leads.

The fertile chorus in “El Rey” features Miller savoring the words “You don’t have to go through any more changes, it’s all done now / You don’t have to break the wild horses that run you and run you down / You don’t have to untangle the bells that jingle and chime and charm you / You don’t have to change, you don’t have to hold onto your past / You don’t have to carry it down this path, it’s all part of the deal”. Seventh track, “Goodbye Ruby”, is a dance of funk and soul that comes to a head with great guitar melodies. The welcome and relaxed “Riverboat” is a nice finish. The track includes a classic, gradual build 3 minutes in, then breaks back into the band’s perfect mash of rock and soul.

Magnificent Fiend is Howlin Rain’s second album. The band previously toured with Queens of the Stone Age. This release on San Fran indie label Birdman Records is a collaboration with American, so Rick Rubin has a hand in this. This one is worth your time.