Review and photographs by J Hunter
There are days when I think critical terminology gets just a little too precious – when we spend far too much time inventing impressive, multi-syllabic words in an attempt to make us sound intellectual. Take “Americana,” for instance. It’s a wonderfully useful umbrella phrase that covers everything from Doc Watson to Bill Frisell and everything in between. That being said, I’m sorry, but for me, “Americana” just sucks the air out of the room – particularly when it comes to a grinning bluegrass juggernaut like Nashville’s Howlin’ Brothers.
“Well, what do you know about bluegrass, J?” you may ask. “You only listen to jazz!” And that’s a fair point. I’ll admit my bluegrass recordings collection begins – and ends – with the Jerry Garcia/David Grisman/Peter Rowan one-off Old and in the Way, and my concert experience is limited to seeing Grisman once, Ricky Skaggs twice (once with Bruce Hornsby as his co-star), David Bromberg four times, and making one trip to the Oxford Bluegrass Festival… although Bill Monroe was the headliner, so that should count for something. Nevertheless, even though Regina Carter paid a loving homage to the music of Appalachia and points south last month at the Egg, that tribute was heavily filtered through a 21st-century jazz mindset; the Howlin’ Brothers are the real, unsullied, 100-proof thing.