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  • Modern-day power pop icon Brendan Benson may not seem to be an ideal choice to produce a bluegrass band the likes of the Howlin' Brothers, but the group's 2013 set Howl illustrates that Benson picked up a few tricks from his Raconteur bandmate Jack White. First of all, Benson keeps things simple and earthy, capturing the trio's natural interplay but preserving just enough echo and air to give this a little bit of grit without ever seeming filthy. Nor do the Howlin' Brothers seem well-scrubbed, like so many groups do in the wake of the success of Mumford & Sons. They're loose and lively, so when they swing into a bit of New Orleans R&B on "Delta Queen" it doesn't feel forced, it feels like an outgrowth of the natural rhythms. Whenever they seem affected it's when they try to be a little bit too pure in their bluegrass ("Hermitage Hostep"), but when they incorporate bits of rock & roll and gospel, or when they cut loose ("People Been Talking"), or lay back ("Just Like You"), they're a compelling, muscled Americana outfit, given just the right showcase here by Benson. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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