[27 May 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Howlin’ Rain was once a more straight-ahead side project during Ethan Miller’s time in the chaotic psych-rock group Comets on Fire. But now the band is a full-on rock force. Long admired for its live show, the band captures that experience here on the hour-plus Live Rain set. Listening to the blistering classic-rock epics in the collection—like the swamp jams of “Self Made Man” or the soulful crunch of “Lord Have Mercy”—you can see why this might be a thrill to see. The band is so committed, and so good, at channeling mid-‘70s rock ‘n’ roll, it’s easy to get swept up in the nostalgia. The homage Howlin’ Rain plays fares much better on stage than it has on record, making Live Rain an often energetic listen. But listening to the record, it doesn’t so much put you in the venue for the show as seek to make you wish you had been. It plays not just in long-term nods to the past but also this sort of instantaneous nostalgia. And all this focus on what was, what we may have missed, still keeps us from getting just what it is about Howlin’ Rain, what is it the band is saying about all these classic sounds and structures. There’s an arena showmanship mixed with barroom intimacy here, which serves the songs well, but the songs themselves feel anonymously classic, well-executed but so committed to tribute they don’t bring much new to the table, even in these fiery live renditions.