The Russian Wilds
Reviewed by Michael Lohr
This album has caused such a disparity of opinion among rock critics. Depending upon who you listen to, Howlin’ Rain is either the “second coming” or a bunch of retro hack Humble Pie/Cream wanna-be’s.
In all honesty, neither scenario is the case. The once side project of Comets On Fire singer/guitarist Ethan Miller, Howlin’ Rain have developed into a bona fide band.
“The Russian Wilds” is quixotic mix of blue-eyed soul, Southern rock, Prog, psychedelic and Rolling Stones/Faces-inspired blues rock. The album is the logical, positive step toward potential greatness. Whereas past recordings meandered about unfocused (a charge Blue Oyster Cult is all too familiar with), this Rick Rubin-produced slab resonates with purpose. It is not a game changer, but rather a bridge.
Songs of note include “Self Made Man,” the Joe Cocker-esque “Can’t Satisfy Me Now” and the edgy “Strange Thunder.” The hidden gem here is the oddly titled, “Cherokee Werewolf,” a song that ebbs between classic “Whipping Post” Allman Brothers and first album Boston, with a touch of Stones “Gimme Shelter” courtesy of the female back-up singers. Then again, if Steely Dan is more your bag, “Beneath Wild Wings” walks in those shoes.
Rubin’s magic fingers give “The Russian Wilds” better production and overall sound quality than any Howlin’ Rain record that has come before, which is to be expected. But it is Miller’s improved songwriting that is the true driving force behind the album. In some ways, this feels like a debut album. Whereas their previous efforts seemed like nothing more than a glorified Ethan Miller solo project, this one is a holistic effort.