Remember Spooky Tooth? Unless yer around my age, ya might not, but I distinctly recall walking into Crane's Records in Inglewood in '69, a hole in the wall that always had an offbeat selection, and, on this particular day, just as I strolled through the door, they were blasting out Spooky Tooth's classic Two—first Lost in my Dream and then Evil Woman. Going into rapture, I grabbed the copy, the only one in the place, bought it, rushed home, and played the dazzling licorice pizza several times through. God almighty, what an LP! Over three decades later, it still gets regular rotation on the ol' turntable. Well, now enter Howard Wuelfing, one of several PR cats with my tastes down pretty damn cold, who asks "D'ya like Spooky Tooth?" and sends Howlin Rain's third gig, The Russian Wilds. No sooner does Self Made Man slam through the stereo system, and I'm once again agog.
When Widespread Panic issued their cataclysmic second effort, more than a few noted the very strong Steppenwolf resemblances, and I'm tellin you that Howlin Rain's disc is just as muscular an issuance and most definitely a paid-forward brother to the estimable Spooky Tooth. Psychedelic, at times raw with power, rock-funk-soulful (prime Mother's Finest, not Graham Central Station), fire-breathing, then laid back passionate and drenched from head to foot in the apex of the 70s. When cranked up full tilt, guitarist/singer/frontman Ethan Miller has the old Luther Grosvenor down pat, along with cats like Snuffy Walden (Stray Dog), Keith Cross (T2), John Simmons (Clear Blue Sky), Leigh Stevens (Blue Cheer but more to Thunder and Roses), and all the great old psychedeliticians we still yearn for. Ah, but Joel Robinow, keyboardist (excellent horn player, vocalist, and guitarist as well), is a great surrogate Gary Wright, with those churning, swirling, atmospheric ivories.
But Spooky Tooth's strength derived in how solid it was as a unit, and every devil dog here pulls his weight: co-guitarist/vocalist Isaiah Mitchell, bassist Cyrus Comiskey, and drummer/percussionist Raj Oha are skin-tight behind Miller and Robinow, and the result is organic, fluid, smoothly crunchy, and boisterous. Miller doesn't have Mike Harrison's (Spooky Tooth's singer) gravel but possesses everything else, including that overwhelming energy that made Harrison stand out clearly. More, Miller's wild refrains go so far as to begin to bring back moments of Black Pearl's B.B. Fieldings. I wasn't surprised too much, then, when a bit of the later Captain Beyond even managed to sneak into Phantom in the Valley, latinate and swingin'. Finally, though, I was a bit surprised that Howlin Rain took in just about the entire run of the Spooky Tooth history, including the rock-folk-gospel elements. Perhaps a bit more surprising was detecting strains of Mick Hucknall and Simply Red in Beneath Wild Wings and elsewhere. Regardless, this isn't your average everyday music.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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