It’s always nice to get an album to review that doesn’t require much dissection allowing instead for 40 minutes of unalloyed wallowing in Mississippi mud with banjos and fiddles flailing away as the band whirl around the Southern States whippin’ up a deal of fun. The Howlin’ Brothers’ Trouble is just such a beast with the Nashville based trio scraping and scrapping their way through old time music with dashes of country, Cajun, and blues in their particular brand of seasoning. Produced by Brendan Benson (of Raconteurs fame) and with guest appearances by Ricky Skaggs and Mike Fried Trouble comes across almost as a Ry Cooder soundtrack with each of the songs worthy of scoring a scene in the likes of Southern Comfort, The Border or The Lost Riders and on one occasion (Pack Up Joe) harking back to the groundbreaking bluegrass accompaniment for Arthur Penn’s Bonnie and Clyde. There’s actually a concept of sorts I think with woman trouble at the heart of it judging by some of the lyrics and the intriguing map of a woman’s heart included in the liner note but the overall breadth of the album more than anything reminds me of the early Nitty Gritty Dirt Band who slipped from country to Cajun to blues without pausing for breath.
So the album is steeped in American music traditions but the delivery more than does this justice with the songs leaping from the speakers and grabbing the listener by the feet demanding recognition. There’s a fine sense of familiarity to some of them with Hard Times borrowing a tune from Cocaine Blues while Louisiana brings forth memories of the original Holy Modal Rounders (without their zaniness). With the exception of the “country dub” song Love which jars somewhat in the midst of its siblings each and every one of the songs here is a cracker. Put It Down is a call and response old time rag tune while Boogie is a risqué funky country blues. Night and Day has a devilish slide guitar as the band zip along before the comforting “jolieness ” of the gumbo soaked Monroe with its zydeco allure . World Spinning Round is solid country tears and beers with lonesome fiddle and weeping pedal steel on a song worthy of Willie Nelson. Troubled Waltz continues in the Nelson vein with its saloon piano familiar to anyone who has heard Spirit while a gnarled guitar spurts and stammers proving this to be the highlight of the album. A seventies breeze blows through the lilting Sing A Sad Song which recalls the Texas troubadours of the early outlaw movement while the band end the album with a revivalist clap happy Gospel refrain on Yes I Am before the tent shuts up for the night.
As we said at the beginning the songs don’t need to be interpreted, this album’s not aimed at the head however it’s guaranteed to have your soul uplifted and feet a tappin’.