I couldn’t make it to Howlin Rain’s London show the other night, but my colleague Miles did, and came back impressed and bearing a very neat new CD that he bought at the gig. “Wild Life” has two tracks, lasts for about half an hour, and may provide some succour for Ethan Miller fans who’ve been unnerved by his transition from the flat-out psychedelic gloop of Comets On Fire to the sepia-tinted classic rock of the Rain.
Essentially, “Wild Life” operates in the space between Comets and Howlin Rain, fairly logically since the line-up for the session is split between the two bands: Joel Robinow, the terrific keyboard player, and bassist Ian Gradek from Howlin Rain; Ben Chasny and drummer Utrillo Kushner from Comets, amongst other things of course. Together, they make a tumultuous old racket, with “Wild Life” itself being a gloriously smoked blues anchored by Robinow’s organ.
It is, apparently, a Wings-era Paul McCartney song, though my general ignorance of that stuff beyond “Wonderful Christmas Time” (a record that I contend is genuinely avant-garde, but I’ll save that lunatic digression for another time) means I’ve no idea how much the original sounds like a severely freaked Humble Pie.
I’m suspecting not, but this is awesome, and it’s fantastic to hear Miller back jousting with the prickly, smudged playing of Chasny while Robinow channels Brian Auger. “Black Sangria”, meanwhile, is, and I quote from the sleevenotes, “A completely improvised piece” that flits all over the place at high speed, thanks in no small part to the mighty Kushner’s skittering beats. A distinct whiff of Latin rock here (I’m faintly reminded of Santana, and even something by The Mars Volta, of all people), though the general vibe is of wandering into an unusually agitated Grateful Dead bootleg. Which is obviously fine by me. Sixteen minutes, 28 seconds seems a bit stingy, mind.
Anyway, this one is on some label called Three Lobed that I’ve never encountered before, and is definitely worth tracking down. In the interim, you could also do worse than head over to When You Awake, where there’s an excellent Ethan Miller comp to download titled “Rock Salt and Nails: A Country Voodoo Mixtape”. Much pleasure to be had here, as Miller plots a course through The Rolling Stones, Earth, Charlie Manson, the intriguing Exuma, Cher, Lindsey Buckingham and so on, and there are copious sleevenotes from Miller which prove that his prose style is as vivid and impassioned as his guitar playing.
Weirdly, the track we’ve been hammering is an early take on “Madman Across The Water” by Elton John, someone who I’ve previously had zero time for, to be honest. Here, though, John uncharacteristically cedes the spotlight to a guesting Mick Ronson, who spends the best part of nine minutes soloing his taskmaster into the ground. Trust me on this one; even if you hate Elton, give it a go.