After hearing the gritty, down-home Americana of The Howlin’ Brothers, it’s hard to believe these three musicians met while receiving jazz and classical training as music students at Ithaca College. And after hearing their latest album, Howl – with those growling vocals and that wailing harmonica, moving from a Dixieland romp to a roadhouse barnburner and covering anything in between – it’s hard to believe that no Howlin’ Brother hails from south of the Mason-Dixon line. But when they come to Iota Club and Cafe on May 6, The Howlin’ Brothers will introduce concert-goers to their brand of mountain music, and it’s a style made for dancing.
Northeasterners Ian Craft and Ben Plasse and Wisconsin-born Jared Green grew up with an appreciation of string-band and old-time blues music. Craft and Green first got together to sing and play some folk tunes, but then formed a string band while at Ithaca. But Ithaca wasn’t the place for their brand of music; they knew Nashville was.
After graduating, Craft and Green moved to the Music City. It was there that they met up with upright bassist and banjo player Plasse who would round out The Howlin’ Brothers, with Craft on banjo, mandolin, and fiddle and Green on guitar and harmonica. The musicians had completed their formal training, but their education in string-band music was just beginning.
“We learned a whole lot more about the music we were playing,” Green said. Upon moving to Nashville, they became more familiar with the songs, artists, and recordings of old-time music, and began attending “picking parties” with like-minded musicians. As Green describes the pastime, musicians 20 or 30 deep will pick up their stringed instruments and get together for an afternoon or evening, playing melodies and sharing in this bygone musical tradition.
It was through one such party that The Howlin’ Brothers met Brendan Benson of the all-star rock outfit The Raconteurs. Benson, also a music producer, enlisted the help of The Howlin’ Brothers on an album he was recording for folk rocker Cory Chisel and later expressed interest in recording the band’s next release. Benson produced Howl and released it last month on his label, Readymade Records. The album’s string-band tunes, which are mostly original compositions with a few covers of classics, run the Americana gamut, with bluegrass, country-blues, and even gospel traditions showing their influence.
For Green, the appeal of this brand of music has always been its upbeat nature. From hearing the local string-band opening shows in his native Wisconsin to performing the music with The Howlin’ Brothers today, he’s liked the music’s simplicity and its ability to get people out on the dance floor. And he hopes that when his band plays it at Iota, people will dance.
“It will be a fun show that mixes lots of styles of music together and will hopefully make you dance,” Green said, “because I’ll be dancing.”
• For more information about The Howlin’ Brothers, visit thehowlinbrothers.com.