"Requiem," the horn solo that opens Howlin Rain's second album, was recorded when Joel Robinow broke his neck -- the neck of his acoustic guitar, that is. It would be easy to imagine him suffering grievous harm during the making of Magnificent Fiend, however; the album is filled with a sense of energy and playfulness that borders on the downright dangerous. Frontman Ethan Miller leads the pack, which melds a sonically diverse Santa Cruz sound with a groovier, classic sound that hearkens back not only to Miller's home in the land of lumberjacks and hippies, but to the big arena rock sound of a bygone era.
Driven not by drums and guitar alone but the unmistakable sounds of a big Hammond organ, "Dancers At The End of Time" brings to mind "Smoke on the Water," though the band says its gospel sound and big vocals are accompanied by lyrics influenced not by Deep Purple, but by Michael Moorcock's Jherek Carnelian. Yet stranger journeys await, however, including "Lord Have Mercy," a tribute to Faustian characters which -- after a smoky, jazzy opening -- turns into something like "Sympathy For the Devil" played at a revival meeting at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.
The album closes with a crime-themed triptych of songs that occupy nearly half of its total playing time. "El Rey," the first, could very well roll under the closing credits of a '70s detective movie, and "Goodbye Ruby," the middle bit, has a funkier wahwah sound that lets the music tell most of its tale. Album closer "Riverboat" is, according to the band, "about people on the edge, trying to hold on while riding the rivers" and it definitely feels frontierlike, rambling and gamboling (and perhaps a little gambling; echoes of "The Gambler," perhaps?) towards a noisy finale full of unexpected feedback. It's a powerful end to a tight, 8-track album that will have you hitting repeat again and again.
Favorite Track: "Nomads"
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