Last year the Howlin' Brothers drove 48,000 miles in a minivan. The Nashville three-piece played 220 gigs and crossed the border from the States to Canada four separate times. During the first half of March, the band drove from Washington, D.C., to Austin, Tex., for a smattering of shows at the massive South by Southwest Music Festival and are, at this very moment (presumably unless they are on stage or sleeping), on their way to Bend via Colorado and Idaho. By the time they arrive, the band will have played 14 shows in 10 days spread over approximately 3,573 miles. Despite their ruckus name and Tennessee vibrato, the Howlin' Brothers will ride most of that 53-hour distance in silence.
"The cd player in the van is broke," said Jared Green, guitar and harmonica player, vocalist and sometimes-shirtless overall-wearer of the non-blood Brothers. "We try to make up jokes and entertain ourselves without music."
"Hopefully, we'll get it fixed soon," he added flippantly.
In the same vein as the old-time revival fused with thunderous live energy of the Devil Makes Three and the Felice Brothers, Howlin' Brothers are Americana, roadside philosophers with sad southern stories to share and more energy in their performance than a possum loaded on a fifth of Jack Daniels on a hot tin roof.
Mixing influences of Nashville and southern honkytonk, quick picking bluegrass and an almost one-man-band approach to performance—all three members are multi instrumentalists with Ben Plasse on upright bass, banjo and vocals, Ian Craft on fiddle, banjo and vocals and Green singing, blowing and strumming along—the simplistic porch-bound country tunes with snarling attitude and a dash of New Orleans jazz include plenty of shouting, and plenty of references to drinking and broken hearts.
To the John Prine, Loretta Lynn school of sad country song writing and the Delta blues at 11 school of flirting with the devil, the Howlin' Brothers add slide banjo—a mixture of old blues scales and twangy Appalachian strings—and the dance board, which Green described as "basically just a piece of wood" that he shuffles and flat-foot dances on as a supplement for the stripped-down high-hat percussion.
"Our sound has always been based in blues and old time bluegrass," said Green of the band's upcoming second album in as many years, Trouble. That one word title descries the unquenchable drive of the band's austral vigor. It's a 13-track farmhouse chef-d'oeuvre that oscillates from firebug dancing jug jigs to slow, morose waltzes. From call and response chants of "pour it down," catcalling women in sundresses and cowboy boots, to three-four molasses tunes about the love-lost world spinning around and leaving a cowboy behind, The Howlin' Brothers can as easily shake the dust off a Stetson as they can circle the bottom of a whiskey bottle.
7 pm. Wed., March 19
McMenamins, 700 NW Bond St.