Howlin Rain’s latest effort, The Dharma Wheel, is the band’s most fully realized hallucinogenic take on roots rock, and boy, does it ever slam.
It’s too bad the term “cosmic American music” was already taken and applied to a different style, because it could also be the perfect description for the sound of this record. The Oakland, CA band approaches the down to earth elements of rural and small town American rock through the openness and heightened consciousness of a psychedelic lens. The lyrics and atmosphere of the recordings even conjure up an alternative, freak Americana—murky southern swamps filled with mind-altering mushrooms; bikers roaring down lonely highways; dive bar dance moves; late night barn stomps; and summer night air that is wet with humidity and sweetened with dope smoke.
Across the record’s six tracks, the band utilizes the hooks, stripped down instrumentation and passionate vocal work that one might expect from an early Springsteen album, but then mutates them into something wholly new. The jams stretch out until you feel as though your mind has separated from your body (especially on the epic 16 minute title track) while astral waves of analogue synthesizers collide with folksy violin (courtesy of the legend that is Scarlet Rivera), creating a unique valley of common ground with heartland rock and 70s prog.
The aforementioned title track is even like a folk rock equivalent of Pink Floyd’s classic side-long suites, like “Echoes” or “Shine on You Crazy Diamond,” with its multiple movements, funky instrumental sections and celestial expansiveness. Howlin Rain might boogie, but they certainly have the same progressively experimental nature as Floyd, at least in terms of composition.
However you might classify or break down the styles on The Dharma Wheel, one thing that surely cannot be debated is that it rocks. From top to bottom, this is a fun, rollicking record. Tracks like “Under The Wheels” rev up with white-hot energy and pack in catchy licks that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Humble Pie LP.
Even the album’s more reserved moments, like “Annabelle,” are a total joy. This is a stirring paean that mixes Garcia-like guitar lines with surrealistically romantic Dylan-esque lyrics (which, when combined with Rivera’s haunting violin solo, brings to mind the mysterious moods of the Desire record). As much as this song moves your soul, it’ll make you want to get up and make some moves yourself.
Wild, rapturous and always sonically daring, The Dharma Wheel is an album that never ceases to entertain nor lose its freshness. Click here to get it today and choogle on, my friends. Choogle on.