CD: 10 Songs, 44:53 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Blues Covers
Ever heard the jelly maker’s slogan, “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good”? When I saw the title of the fourth album from San Francisco’s Howell Devine, I thought, “With a name like Howl, it has to be loud.” Some of its ten tracks certainly are, but on the whole, the CD’s energy is mid-key, like a pleasant but not-so-crowded day at the beach in southern Cali. Only two of its selections are originals – “Sirenic Woman” and “PM Blues.” The others are covers so dog-eared (whoops, wrong kind of cover) that they’re as familiar as a favorite book. R.L. Burnside’s “Going Down South,” Robert Johnson’s “Come On in my Kitchen” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “The Key” are decent homages to their source material. The best one, however, is their take on The Meters’ “Funky Miracle.” Regarding the band’s musicianship, they excel on guitar, especially slide. On vocals, they’re a bit dry, but you know what else is good when it’s dry? Wine and liquor. As on their previous albums, such as Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju (2014), Howell Devine is also great at putting a twenty-first-century twist on blues of the past.
In the CD liner notes, noted newspaper columnist Andrew Gilbert writes, “Much like the iconic blues musicians who provided the bones and marrow for vast stretches of American music, you can’t keep Howell Devine down on the Delta when they feel they need to roam. The elemental Bay Area trio has distinguished itself over the past decade as a startlingly potent roots-based combo steeped in an array of sinewy shuffles and muscular grooves.”
Howell Devine consists of Joshua Howell on vocals, guitar and harmonica; Pete Devine on drums, washboard and jug; and Joe Kyle Jr. on bass. Guest musicians include perennial blues-rock favorite Chris “Kid” Andersen on organ, Danny Brown on tenor sax, and Fil Lorenz on baritone sax.
The album’s closer, an aforementioned original, is its best song for a bit of drink and downtime.
Track 10: “PM Blues” – With a tongue-in-cheek tone and witty lyrics, this is a ballad of two lovers, one looking for a fight, the other looking to avoid one. “I know you’re mad. These PM Blues are such a drag. I know you’re mad. These PM blues are such a drag. Don’t take it out on me, ‘cause I ain’t your punching bag.” Danny Brown and Fil Lorenz are terrific on twin saxes, as is Josh Howell on harmonica. Fatigue can do a number on one’s body and mind, but as for this song? It won’t make one tired. It might make one want to slow-dance, though!
For Howell Devine’s fans, their fourth offering is a must-have, full of their unique style. For others, though, who were expecting more intensity, there may not be enough Howling going on.