In 2006, Comets on Fire guitarist Ethan Miller took a break from his partnership with the Bay Area songwriting collective to explore his own songs, enlisting the help of drummer John Moloney of Sunburned Hand of the Man and bassist/banjo player Ian Gradek to flesh out a new band they called Howlin Rain. The result was an appealing, undressed rock record that followed in the footsteps of jam icons The Allman Brothers and The Grateful Dead -- nostalgic but uncontrived.
Howlin Rain's second album, Magnificent Fiend, is once again awash in jam rhetoric like distortion, wah-wah pedals, and bastard American song titles like "El Rey;" but, having undergone a few lineup changes, the three-piece-turned-six-piece now includes keys, organs, and horns, making for a grander, more imposing sound. Here, Miller & Co. doesn't limit themselves to their 1960s rock influences, but also take cues from jazz, funk, and blues. For all the wall-of-sound production, an irregular, raw quality remains, which was recorded in seven days at Prairie Sun Recording in Cotati, California, where Tom Waits recorded Bone Machine. The ironically-titled opener, the instrumental "Requiem," which features only the chaotic ramblings of a piano over the abrasive blasts of a trumpet, might as well be a New Orleans jazz band warming up. The short piece trails off before diving headfirst into a full-force signature jam, "Dancers at the End of Time" featuring electric guitar, Hammond organ, and Miller's Jim Beam-drenched vocals.
Tracks flow from one into another on this album, but when you reach "Riverboat," which begins as a soft, acoustic number with dreamlike vocal harmonies, and ends in a cathartic buildup of vintage synths, aged pianos, cymbal crashes, and an anthemic refrain of "These are our times," you'll know you've made it to the gloriously dissonant end.
"Dancers At The End Of Time"