, May 14th, 2014 10:34
In an age of instant downloads and gratification, phones filming the slightest movement of a band at a gig and uploaded in minutes, and live recordings released as either digital EPs or merely an advert for your favourite digital store, the stock of the live album has certainly plummeted in recent years and you really have to question who, in their right mind, would bother putting one out now.
And yet, if any band was made for the live album, then Howlin Rain are it. Often derided by detractors as throwbacks in thrall to a distant time of pot and patchouli and the redemptive power of classic rawk firing on all cylinders against a backdrop of the three-day week, Howlin Rain's M.O. certainly fits the bill. In Ethan Miller, the band possesses a frontman and leader who gleefully channels the messianic approach of primetime Springsteen through the filter of Mountain's Leslie West to deliver equally wide-screen visions set to music fuelled by bombastic virtuosity.
Certainly, Live Rain is evocative of those live albums from the 70s that major acts dropped routinely after their third or fourth album. The opening crowd noise – a hybrid of white noise static and a bowl of Rice Krispies amplified by mega-wattage – gives way to opening percussion and the strummed guitar of 'Phantom In The Valley' which is then elevated once again when the crashing chords and drums come raining down. In keeping with the band's inspiration source, tracks are dragged beyond their original running due in no small part to much extended soloing thanks to Miller's dexterous fretwork. So it is that 'Self-Made Man' does the 70s thing as it breaks the 10-minute mark and heads off in to the distance like a runner who doesn't know when to stop.
Not that it's epic readings all the way. The relatively concise 'Beneath Wild Wings' displays joyful and judicious deployment of the wah-wah pedal and Miller's full-throated delivery recalls Rod Stewart before he jettisoned his talent in favour of spandex, hokey disco and the jet-set life. But it's difficult to not to be seduced by the soulful reading of 'Lord Have Mercy' that benefits from some nice bluesy touches before exploding into the kind of guitar-driven coda that Lynyrd Skynyrd would've been proud of.
Culled from various performances recorded in 2012, Live Rain is very much a 21st century live album despite its obvious influences. Rather than concentrating on a single, memorable event, it takes the best bits to offer an idealised representation of the Howlin Rain live experience that's very much the aural equivalent of a Cameron Crowe movie. Indeed, Jeff Spicoli would love this album.