Howl, the first album from the Howlin’ Brothers with Brendan Benson as producer was, forgive me, a Howlin’ success. After spending 24 weeks on The Americana Music Radio Chart, and peaking at #6, the Howlin’ Brothers have been busy in the studio and touring virtually non-stop. A new album, also produced by Benson will be released in early 2014. But to whet the appetite of their fans, the band has just dropped a self-produced six song EP, recorded at the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee.
Sun Studio has seen the greats walk in to create history. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, and more recently Boz Scaggs recorded his successful album, Memphis. The mystique of the studio is equal only to the ghosts in residence, whether real or imaginary. The Howlin’ Brothers walked in and through osmosis or telepathy, recorded a classic set of songs, dripping with Sun Studio mojo.
Ian Craft, Ben Plasse and Jared Green chose four original songs for the middle of the EP. Ones they felt would cook up like fried chicken in your grandma’s cast iron skillet, knowing the musical flavors cooked into Sun Studio over the years, would produce that subtle taste found nowhere else. Then they took an old favorite, Carl Perkin’s “Dixie Fried,” to open up the session, and to end it, one of their own songs reworked in homage to the studio itself.
Howlin’ Brothers’ “Dixie Fried”
Starting off with an old Sun Studio treasure, the Howlin’ Brothers cover of “Dixie Fried” takes the original and adds a layer of freshness. Sweet pickin’ on top, while the thumping bass of Ben Plasse anchors the energy.
“Til I Find You” has much more of a traditional Americana feel. The quick tempo, yearning vocals, harmonica and banjo, create the urgency the lyrics convey.
Slowing the pace down, “Troubled Waltz” gives off an ominous tone. Though only guitar, banjo and bass are heard on this track, there is sufficient fullness of sound to portray the melancholy of the song.
Howlin’ Brothers’ “Til I Find You”
“Take Me Down” feels more like the sound found on their last release, Howl. Part Country, part Americana, or as the Brothers would probably call it, just good “old-time” music. These songs were recorded live in the studio, and it seems the third take of this tune was the charm.
Quick paced and ready for dancing, “Charleston Chew” is heavy on the harmonica and gives off a good old bluegrass feel. If you get the chance to see the Howlin’ Brothers live, you can expect to see Jared Green dancing in quickstep to the beat.
Seeing the Sun Studio piano while becoming immersed in the ambiance of the room, the Brothers decided to re-record “Tennessee Blues,” off their Howl album. This time the track included only the bass, fiddle and the historically significant piano. The stripped down version fits in perfectly. While Green hits the keys that have created notes for archival moments of music history, Ian Craft sings mournfully, before letting the fiddle finish setting the mood. At first the idea of redoing a song from the previous album seemed a little strange, but not only does the piano take center stage, it finishes the EP with a sweetness and richness that can’t be manufactured. It comes from music produced in that room, sounds that permeated the walls and never left.
The Sun Studio Session is only available in digital form, and the session will be broadcast on PBS early in 2014. The EP is as solid as Howl, and is a nice bridge to the highly anticipated release due in February. In the meantime, the Howlin’ Brothers continue to tour, gaining fans and great reviews along the way.
Written by Kath Galasso
Our Vinyl | Contributor