Nashville-based outfit the Howlin’ Brothers take bluegrass and old-timey music as a starting point that allows them to rip into traditionally inflected tunes with a verve and energy that wouldn’t feel out of place on a rock ‘n’ roll record. Debut album Howl kicks off with the banjo riffage and harmonica skronk of “Big Time”, and the energy rarely flags afterward. The trio, consisting of Ian Craft, Jared Green and Ben Plasse, share vocal duties and bang away deftly on an array of acoustic instruments, attacking the material with gusto, whether it’s the bluegrassy, fiddle-driven “Julia Belle Swain”, the moody, downtempo “Tennessee Blues” or the New Orleans jazz of “Delta Queen”—a song that sounds an awful lot like the Grateful Dead’s take on “Iko Iko”.
In fact, the loose, Americana-esque vibe of “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty” is an obvious touchstone here, although the Howlin’ Brothers steer clear of acid-infused guitar freakouts. They’re hardly missed, though, what with the whining harmonica of “My Dog Can’t Bark”, the finger-blistering “Take This Hammer” and the sweet harmony vocals of album closer “Mama Don’t You Tell Me”. This is acoustic music with one eye turned toward the past and the other squarely facing the future.