Blues & Bourbon: HowellDevine Record Release Party

Wed. Apr 6, 2022 at 5:30pm PDT
All Ages
Price: $16.00
All Ages
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Price: $16.00
All Ages
Event Description
Blues & Bourbon: HowellDevine Record Release Party

The Starlet Room presents 

Blues & Bourbon: HowellDevine "Strange Time Blues" Record Release Party
with George Holden's Live Cinema & Liquid Light Show

Doors: 5:30pm / Show: 6:30pm

$16 General Admission - $13 Sac Blues Society


We are celebrating The Bay Area's renowned shack-shakin' music trio and the the release of their fifth record Strange Time Blues.

From Dan Forte's liner notes: "There is no blues band performing today as different as HowellDevine – nor as delightful,” wrote Lee Hildebrand, as knowledgeable a Bay Area blues expert as ever there was, and a lowdown drummer in his own right. What makes HowellDevine different isn’t some radical slant or “remix” of the genre. And I’d never hang the “future” albatross on any act. But even a cursory listen to “I Walked All The Way From East St. Louis,” which opens this collection, reveals a whole lot going on.

Yes, it’s traditional. And simple, with that telling “deceptively” qualifier. Joshua Howell lays down a lazy bottleneck riff on his 1931 National steel-bodied guitar – a Duolian resonator model favored by the likes of Son House and Bukka White. Pete Devine adds seemingly random brush strokes at first. Josh’s vocal is laconic and understated – no “shouting the blues” here. Lyrics about dark clouds, hoboing, and “my baby” aren’t even of this millennia, let alone forward-thinking. He kicks into a hypnotic groove in the manner of the song’s composer, Fred McDowell, with Pete rolling into a steady rhythm as Joe Kyle, Jr., plucks his upright bass, alternately grabbing his bow to make the bass growl. Sure, it’s the blues, but it’s also a study in dynamics, of theme and variation.

It’s tricky to show reverence without becoming a museum piece shot full of formaldehyde, but HowellDevine deftly navigates that tightrope, making the old sound fresh and rendering the new timeless. The group’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. Quite the contrary; blues and roots figures from harp legend Charlie Musselwhite to the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Ben Jaffe have sung the band’s praises.

Bonnie Raitt weighed in with, "What a pleasure to find a young band that really gets the blues...Deep and true to the roots.”

Extolling their virtues, Maria Muldaur said, “HowellDevine have chosen a minimalist approach, which strips both the classic blues tunes they interpret as well as their wonderful original compositions down to the bare essence of what the blues is all about – played simply and with authenticity that’s both old-school and refreshingly new.” And in the same manner as his say-it-all-with-one-note guitaring, Elvin Bishop stated, "We love them - they are great!”

Perhaps most impressive was the statement, and action, of Arhoolie Records founder Chris Strachwitz, who discovered Mance Lipscomb and produced albums by dozens of legends, including Lightnin’ Hopkins, Clifton Chenier, and Big Mama Thornton. Upon hearing HowellDevine’s 2012 debut, Delta Grooves, he said, “People give me CDs all the time, but this CD is the first one I've listened to from beginning to end in years.” The guys’ follow-up, Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles, was the first blues album released by Arhoolie (now Smithsonian) in over 25 years!

Besides McDowell, Strange Time pays tribute to blues elders Muddy Waters (“Long Distance Call”), Blind Boy Fuller (“Untrue Blues”), and R.L. Burnside (“Long-Haired Doney”). “When The Levee Breaks” leapfrogs over Led Zeppelin IV back to Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie. Similarly, Rev. Robert Wilkins’ “That’s No Way To Get Long,” a.k.a. “Prodigal Son,” eschews the affected caricature of the Rolling Stones’ version.

The original instrumental jam “Hey!” showcases Howell’s supple harmonica while Devine pulls double duty on percussion and jug. It takes some road work to cut something like that live in the studio – as was the entire album with the exception of “Smoke,” where Joshua overdubbed harmonica behind his vocal and guitar bed. It’s a testament to the synchronicity that only steady gigging and common purpose can achieve.

Appropriately somber and a little scary, Joshua’s powerful original “Smoke” deals with the wildfires in California – like some topical blues classics, it’s a timely commentary now, and sadly will probably continue to be. Another heartfelt song from Howell’s pen, “Nila” doesn’t pull any punches as it recounts the death of a neighbor. It’s told respectfully, not maudlin for even a second. And check out how the drums and bass spar and dance with each other.

Like “East St. Louis,” “Strange Time Meltdown” begins all funky beats and bluesy bends, but changes course about two-and-a-half minutes in. Kyle pushes the harmonic envelope, Howell clicks in a wah-wah pedal, and Devine’s tom fills are more Elvin Jones than Fred Below. The improvisation dispels any “retro” pigeonhole, with the trio demonstrating a contemporary, progressive side, and capably so.

Labeling art is always fallible, which is maybe why HowellDevine calls its style simply “shack-shaking music” – as apt a description as any. Hitting “play” for Strange Times Blues is a guarantee your apartment, shack, or mansion will be shaking in no time. Mine hasn’t stopped."

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The Starlet Room 2708 J Street
Sacramento, CA 95816
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