More American Beauty-era Dead than picking-and-grinning Scruggs redux, the Howlin’ Brothers steer the current fascination with string-band hominess back toward rock music. The complexity created by having three lead voices puts them on a continuum with the Band, as well.
And yet the Howlin’ Brothers — whose new album Trouble is out on producer Brendan Benson’s Readymade Records — sound like nothing so much as themselves, no small feat anymore. Credit their trio of composers, each of whom sings his own lyrics. That gives Trouble a thrilling episodic variety.
If Jared Green, the new dad, brings a rough-hewn nostalgia on his “Monroe,” then Ian Craft is more than ready to kick up his heels on the hootenanny-cool “Pour It Down.” Ben Plasse might answer with a winking impishness on “Boogie,” but then Craft ambles back to the mic for the grinding steel-toed blues of “Night and Day.” Plasse ends up losing pieces of his heart on a lengthy journey in search of love on “Louisiana,” even as Green skips his way through “Pack Up Joe” — and Craft stops short to admit “I Was Wrong.”
Separately, they perhaps couldn’t have been more different, save for the throwback instrumentation and spacious work at the board from Benson. Take them of a piece, however, and the fleet, frisky Trouble fits together like a sibling’s conversation — each narrative distinct, and yet interrelated because of proximity. Their furious invention on the guitar, banjo, fiddle and bass does the rest. If these instruments were plugged in, Trouble would rearrange the floorboards of many a front porch.