by Kris Handel (@khandel84)
The Alligator Bride is the fifth release of the Ethan Miller led Howlin Rain, and it may be the bands most reigned in and tightened up record, or as reigned in as Howlin Rain can be. Miller has always been a proponent of some explosive guitar pyrotechnics in all his bands and homages to many of the 60s west coast psychedelic bands. Miller and company show off their range of musical references and at many times evoke mysterious nights out in the desert or contemplative moments after what could possibly be a bad decision or two. Miller also shows off a clear enjoyment of classic soul and blues both vocally and through some musical allusions throughout The Alligator Bride in place of some of the earlier mostly acoustic meditations on some of the earlier albums.
Howlin Rain vary up their style throughout this record and some of the stronger moments come out during some of the more contemplative songs like “Speed” and “In the Evening”. “Speed” is helped out by some very nice steel guitar work to lend a bit of expanse and helps with the imagery of wearily waking up after a night of debauchery out in a remote area without much going on. Howlin Rain do a nice job playing with the pace as well with the beginning of the song lazily loping around until you get that last hit and everything brightens up and explodes into your ears. Miller drowsily longs for a missing companion through “In the Evening” over plaintive slide guitar and the low hum of keyboards laying down the foundation. It’s another performance that can place you in the situation where you can feel the isolation, but there’s also a beauty and stillness that comes through.
The Alligator Bride does a really good job keeping you guessing on what direction it might go from song to song, be it a bluesy shuffle reminiscent of early ‘70s Rolling Stones mixed into the clamor (“Missouri”), or some jam inspired flights of fancy. This is a record full of playful stories of taking full advantage of opportunities for revelry on the path of life. Mixed in between the clear reverence for living life to its fullest and indulgence, there are still those moments of reflection of the other side of those decisions. There’s an energy and spirit that is lively and inspiring and will leave you feeling a little brighter after each listen, it’s hard not to with a record this playful in its tales of recklessness and abandon.