The Howling Kettles’ CD Release Hootenanny

There are some bands that just make you feel good. It’s partly the music, but it’s also the musicians’ energy and enthusiasm that makes you smile and gets your limbs loosened. The Howling Kettles (formerly named String Band) is a prime example, a young roots duo comprised of Jackson Emmer and Sam Moss. The first time I saw the band play was at The Spotty Dog in Hudson, NY back in March. It was a great show that included raucous sing-alongs and an impromptu contra dance by attendees that the musicians also joined in on — while continuing to play — so I was excited when I heard that the Vermont-based band would be returning to The Spotty Dog on the 11th to celebrate the release of its new album, “The Parlor Is Pleasant on Sunday Night.” I wondered what to expect this time around… More banjo and guitar, along with vocal duets? More dancing, perhaps? More foot-stomping, hell-raising fun? As it turns out, yes to all of the above.

A full night of folk music was scheduled, with local musicians Liv Carrow (who performs solo and with the band Pocatello) and a girl named Pat from the band Nature Films both playing solo sets to open. Also performing was Evan Levine, who used to live in Hudson but currently resides in PA. Unfortunately, I missed the first two performers, but I did make it in time to catch Levine, who was great.  He opened with Mississippi John Hurt’s “Make Me A Pallet,” and his set included classics like “I’m In The Mood For Love,” “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen,” and “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love.” Although Levine’s musical style is unique, it is undeniably inspired by musicians of the Depression era, and when listening one easily gets lost in the songs and forgets that it is, in fact, the 21st century. Towards the end of his set Levine was joined by a local jazz flutist who happens to be an old friend of his, Stuart Quimby. Levine is very much a free spirit musically speaking, and he likes to play around with time signatures as it suits him, creating a sense of spontaneity that’s unusual and refreshing but could also be hard to follow. Quimby did an amazing job, however, and watching the two converse on guitar and flute was exciting, especially given the high caliber of each musician.

Levine actually co-produced The Howling Kettles’ new album with the band (he did the recording, mixing, and engineering), and after playing his own set I was delighted that he also played on upright bass with Moss and Emmer for the band’s set. Throughout the evening all of the performers played without amplification, the dim lights casting a beautiful glow on the smiling faces of those sitting at the bar or scattered on the floor. The Howling Kettles also played unamplified, but as soon as the band’s first song was over no one was left sitting on the floor. Instead, people stood or danced, and the band even led an impromptu dance lesson of sorts, leading some contra dance steps. To close their set, the musicians played a cover of “Ida Red” — a traditional song made famous by bands such as Bob Wills, Uncle Earl, and Asleep at the Wheel — and The Howling Kettles’ version of it was a hell-raising barn-burner. The audience joined hands in a circle and danced around the musicians who clustered in a trio in the middle of the floor, and I can’t think of a better way to have ended the night.

As for the band’s new album, it is more fully developed than the previous one, a reflection of the band’s evolving and maturing sound. It’s got a little of everything you would want from a bluegrass/folk/roots music album: dance-inspiring heel-kicking songs like the band’s take on “Skip To My Lou,” which opens the album; hearty, full-bodied songs like “All The Way Left”; droning, slide-ridden Appalachian-inspired fiddle tunes like “Dry ‘N Dusty” (one of my personal favorites on the album); banjo-led ballads like “Badly Bent,” which also features some really nice vocal harmonies and is another favorite of mine; the beautiful “Wolves “A Howlin’”, which opens gently with banjo and vocals before double-stringed fiddle joins in; covers of classics like “Poor Liza Jane,” “Hesitation Blues,” “John Hardy,” and “St. James Infirmary”; and the gentle lullaby-like “Rock That Cradle” that closes the album. If you’re looking for the polished, newgrass music that’s so prevalent today, this isn’t the band for you. However, if you’re looking for a young generation’s take on authentic bluegrass, folk, and blues music with a whole lot of spirit and a whole lot of fun, The Howling Kettles are a sure bet. Keep up with this young duo here!

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