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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
RCA Records

There is an old saying that the apple doesn't fall from the tree. On Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's third release Howl, this classical maxim seems to fit neatly. Robert Turner and Peter Hayes seem to have forsaken the noisy, tight maelstrom of Take Them On, On Your Own and turned the BRMC machine towards a more traditional Americana direction… Coming ever closer to the direction in which Turner's father's band was ever heading. This new direction in the bands sound can most accurately be defined with what I would term a low lonesome sound; incorporating elements of bluegrass/folk and old country into their already thick and dark rock and roll base. But the lyrics are where the similarities really draw close. The words of Howl are dark and intense, steering the album in a dogmatic quest for grace and the eventual rise of the human spirit.

Almost in its entirety, Howl relies more on acoustic instruments than the supersonic walls of guitar that have previously defined BRMC's work. The album starts off with the sonic stomp of "Shuffle Your Feet", reminding immediately of a more profound and dark "Honky Tonk Woman". Acoustic guitars carry the music under the brilliant lyricism and over the ambient talking in the background. The stage is set for what is to be the greatest BRMC album yet. "Howl" introduces organ into the sound, recalling the unique gospel influence that is found all over the record, as well. "Devil's Waitin'" is an amazing song, just Peter and his acoustic guitar, belting out what could be interpreted as a modern spiritual; full of soulful depth, immense heart and a wild holler. The lead single is "Ain't No Easy Way", and it is readily apparent why. The song is built once more on a heavy stomp rhythm, but builds in some excellent delta-style slide guitars and wailing harmonica. This song recalls the past BRMC readily, while showing an amazing maturity and transformation in the band's sound.

The record takes turns to the right or left, steering into more acoustic, clean passageways ("Still Suspicion Holds You Tight"), gospel-filled ballads ("Promise"), deep southern blues alleys ("Restless Sinner"), and a more traditional folk sense ("Complicated Situation"). The serenity of "Gospel Song" is a welcome respite from the sometimes overly heavy music on Howl, even though the lyrical themes maintain the same sense of mortal questioning and search for grace. "The Line" is a perfect album closer, with its dramatic and highly tuneful dirge of vocal and dark organ.

Simply put, Howl is a brilliantly spun album full of heart and incredible depths of emotion and sound reminiscent of truly classic American music, while bringing that music well into the 21st century. The sonic spectrum of the band still exists, but the sound has been focused into a tighter band, and the noisiness tamed in a most appealing way. The songs all tend towards a slow dirge, exactly as one would expect from BRMC, focused much more on the darkness and deep hollows of Appalachian tradition than the brighter, more celebratory side of mountain music.

-Embo Blake

Track Listing:
1. Shuffle Your Feet
2. Howl
3. Devil's Waitin'
4. Ain't No Easy Way
5. Still Suspicion Holds You Tight
6. Fault Line
7. Promise
8. Weight Of The World
9. Restless Sinner
10. Gospel Song
11. Complicated Situation
12. Sympathetic Noose
13. The Line

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