Howlin Rain's The Russian Wilds and other thoughts from the critic

Howlin Rain's The Russian Wilds and other thoughts from the critic
Beards: A) Keep you warm in the Russian Wilds, B) Enhance guitar playing.

We’ve been jamming here in The Jam Room for a few months now and I’m starting to get a few emails.

It’s easy to get a little self-impressed when somebody contacts you for help. And most artists definitely need help (in more ways than we can provide).

While reviewing music for The Bradley (University) Scout (yes, that’s the name of a paper… I’ll give you a sec to stop giggling..) I got plenty of discs and impersonal flyers from wannabe boy bands and so many Limp Bizkit-like outfits we could never quite tell the rip-offs from the actual cover bands.

That feeling of self worth quickly fades when you realize you’re now just receiving another form of junk mail – the “press kit.” Big-shot editors might call it a “slush pile.” Sure, something good may come out of it, but you’re gonna grab an intern to sift through it all.

But this is ChicagoNow – and my music reviews can’t get puked on anymore.

Today I found myself impressed with the world when I put on this album The Russian Wilds by Howlin Rain and was compelled to actually write a review. In fact, I was somewhat blown away by this band.

So a big Rock On! to Sideways Media in sunny Cali for turning me on to a few acts I’ll be reviewing in the near future.

The system works!

Howlin Rain, The Russian Wilds
Drops February 14th.

There’s something ancient about this band. From the lack of a ‘g’ to the growl of the verse. Judging by their third album, Howlin Rain is a jam band polished enough to convince Clapton to have a listen and a drink while surmising if they should go on before or after the Black Crowes at the festival.

It’s a shame I should have to wonder about the commercial viability of a band like this. The album’s first tune, “Self Made Man,” rocks out for a full 8 minutes, though the cries of “Don’t look back now/You’re nearly home/Hey self-made man/All blood and bones,” don’t fade easy. The second song moves from psychedelic rock to a soulful salsa jam well into its fifth minute. The first two tracks alone take listeners through such maneuverings of style and feeling that you think you've listened to an album already.

I loved it. And it works for my favorite psycho-delic jammers the Dandy Warhols. But bands like that (and I) have spent over a decade now in a love/HATE relationship with FM radio.

Fact is: if you offer more than one bang per buck, you’re too complicated to be broadcast (maybe they think we'll start moshing in the streets (I can't lie... I would)).

But digging a bit deeper, things start to get sleek farther into the album. The third song is straight up soulful blues (with a weird “did I just slip behind The Wall?” interlude). Track four – “Cherokee Werewolf” – could definitely be the single now or on ‘70s FM, followed by “Who’ll Stop the Rain?”

The bombast of songs like this one keep evoking ‘70s era rock – the dreamy backing vocals, the keys, the wait-for-it interlude into an anthemic chorus. I was never a big fan of Journey-type bands because it is possible pull all this off in a way that’s not so cheesy – Howlin Rain blasts their way through the cheese, leaving behind very few tracks that metaphorically cut any (sorry).

But the album’s not all cranked to 11. “Collage” is a hand-drum driven jam with CSNY vocals and the album ends with some more wailing blues and one last piano jam. A willing end to a vast journey.

With real rock radio dying, this may be a band condemned to touring and gathering fame epic-jamming at Bonnaroo. From the sound of it, they might be okay with that (looking around on YouTube, it's what they’ve been doing). These guys are probably a phenomenal rush to see live. But it’s unfortunate more people may not hear this stuff.

If you still break out Disraeli Gears – or if your iPod is nearing 40% Black Keys because those dudes just keep putting out albums (right?!) – put on Howlin Rain’s The Russian Wilds at your next party. It’s great late night haze, somebody's on the floor, stronger-than-should-exist cocktails music.

With the first employment of the 6-string rating system I award this:

* 4.5 out of 6 strings. * This is dig-able. I’ll listen to it again before the day is done. And again tomorrow. In fact, it’ll be on my desk for a while. *

Check out Howlin Rain at and at their various Facebook, YouTube and Twitter pages (they’re also touring the western U.S. extensively right now, if you get over there).


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  • Looks like the guys are gonna be at SXSW. Rock...


    7 Mercury Lounge, NYC, NY **
    8 Brooklyn Bowl, Brooklyn, NY **
    9 Johnny Brenda's, Philadelphia, PA **
    10 Red Palace, Washington DC **
    11 Cafe Nine, New Haven, CT **
    14 Detroit Bar, Costa Mesa, CA
    15 Casbah, San Diego, CA
    16 Echo, Los Angeles, CA
    17 SoHo, Santa Barbara, CA
    18 Independent, San Francisco, CA (Hometown Album Release Show)
    19 Audie's Olympic, Fresno, CA
    21 Humboldt Brews, Arcata, CA (Radio Moscow supports)
    23 Biltmore, Vancouver, BC
    24 Sunset Tavern, Seattle, WA
    25 Doug Fir, Portland, OR
    ** Soldiers of Fortune supports

    6 Cellar Door, Visalia, CA (Supporting Blitzen Trapper)
    7 SLO Brew, San Luis Obispo, CA
    8 Fingerprints, Long Beach, CA
    9 Harlow's, Sacramento, CA
    10 St. James Infirmary, Reno, NV
    11 Crystal Bay Casino, Tahoe (Umphrey's McGee After Party)
    12 Urban Lounge, Salt Lake City, UT
    13 Larimer Lounge, Denver, CO
    15 SXSW2012, Austin, TX
    16 SXSW2012, Austin, TX
    17 SXSW2012, Austin, TX

  • They do sound really good! Reminds me on a 90/s band called Flowerhead for some reason, but more soulful.

  • Definitely a 70's classic rock sound to them. I'll keep an eye to see if / when they are coming to the east coast.

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