Howlin Rain‘s second album, Magnificent Fiend, could easily work as a Comets On Fire record, the one where they reign in the melodies, learn how to play the Hammond organ, and make a perfect facsimile of what your uncle was listening to when George McGovern was running for president. Perhaps there is a bit less guitar interplay going on in Howlin Rain, but Ethan Miller is still wearing the same denim jacket that he does during his day job, but it fits him nicely.
This means that anyone who has ever uttered the words “dirty hippy” or rolled their eyes at stories of Grateful Dead concerts probably need to stay clear of Magnificent Fiend. There’s enough San Fran grooves going on here to appeal to any Deadhead while managing to put-off a fan of Comets On Fire as there’s not a lot of guitar damage to be had.
Occasionally, you do find a few tasty solos, trippy feedback wails and a few acoustic guitar flourishes, but there’s an abundance of keyboard work, where ivory tinkler Joel Robinow plays Keith Godchaux to Ethan Miller’s (weak) version of Steve Marriott.
But what makes Magnificent Fiend work so well is how Howlin Rain try at emulating their influences. These influences, by the way, are 70s second-tier, opening act arena rockers, not the headliners like you would think. To be honest, it sounds downright fresh to hear these deep track nods after everyone has forgotten about them.
And just because you’ve never hear Humble Pie‘s Smokin’ or rolled a joint on the gatefold of Europe ’72 it doesn’t mean that they’re not worthy of further examination or, as is the case of Howlin Rain, the entire inspiration for a second album.
Personally, I like the idea. And I think it’s a lot more challenging than sticking by the usual suspects of 70s rock influences (Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and even the Faces to some extent) as it will probably mean Howlin Rain will face the same amount of public indifference that their lineage faced during their original chart entries.
I don’t expect Magnificent Fiend to burn up the charts just like I don’t expect any trouble finding a ticket to a Wishbone Ash reunion concert. At the same time, Wishbone Ash seemed to have done well enough to have a twenty year-plus career, which isn’t a bad run for Howlin Rain to shoot for.
A few days ago, it was warm enough here in the Heartland for me to throw on my denim jacket for the first time in a long while. And, like Magnificent Fiend, it felt pretty good.