The Howling Tongues

The Howling Tongues

Independent release, 2014

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


I was bummed when Jet broke up a couple of years ago. Not because they were still a vital force—it was unfortunately pretty much all downhill after their superb 2003 debut Get Born—but because there just aren’t that many bands left these days playing riff-centric, attitude-laden, Rolling Stones-meet-AC/DC rock and roll.

The Howling Tongues aim to occupy that same space—the slightly greasy, guitar-heavy rock thing so successfully executed by bands like Aerosmith and the Black Crowes—and they’ve got the essentials: the riffs, the swagger, the live-wire energy. The question after that becomes whether they have the imagination and flair to bring something fresh to the equation, some twist to keep you interested beyond the first few tracks.

With the Tongues, the twist comes in their choice to give keyboards a prominent role in their sound, giving them more of a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, melodic-rock feel than most of their peers. All of which made it less than surprising—more like “Of course!”—when I peeked at the liner notes partway into my first listen to this self-titled debut and discovered that it was produced by original Heartbreakers drummer Stan Lynch.

The band—Taylor Harlow (lead vocals, guitar), Tylor James (drums), Nick Magliochetti (lead guitar), Thomas Wainwright (keys & background vocals), and Brandon Wichter (bass & background vocals)—open their debut with the driving winner “Gotta Be A Man,” featuring a fiery lead riff, strong organ support, and a rhythm section full of drive. The lyric is a tricky one that Harlow imbues with real ferocity, a grown man calling out his dad for running away decades earlier.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Let Me Be” brings the band’s bluesy edge to the forefront, with organ and harmony vocals feeding the atmospherics. “Chainsaw” is another fun cut, featuring a synth-and-drum-heavy arrangement that reminds of recent work by the Black Keys even as the cartoonish chorus (“Your daddy’s got a chainsaw, and he’s comin’ for me”) makes you smile.

The album feels like it falters a bit in the middle section with several songs that fall into the category of “close but not quite.” “Strange Way To Say Goodbye” opens with a fat guitar riff paired with piano, but repeats the chorus more times than the hook merits, though Harlow’s nasally, rather Petty-esque snarl is indisputably the best part of the song. They take a chance on “Fade Away,” as Harlow raps the verses and sings the choruses. To pull this off on a rock album, the lyric and execution both have to be killer; the execution is very good, but the lyric is just okay, and the mid-song bust out jam feels like it’s been spliced in from an entirely different song.

“The Sound” is a dark but ultimately rather formulaic ballad, whose dramatic crunch and echo aren’t fulfilled by the lyric. The jumbled “I’m In Love” tries to cram too many musical ideas into a single three-and-a-half-minute tune that again suffers from a cliché-heavy lyric. Fortunately, things pick up again in the final third of this album.

“Another Heart To Bleed” opens as an airy midtempo blues before billowing out at the chorus; it’s a somewhat familiar arrangement, but it’s well-performed and fully realized, riding a deliciously slinky groove. The similarly midtempo “What’s It Gonna Take” smolders along nicely. On closer “Too Many Times,” the Tongues drop into Johnny Cash / “Folsom Prison Blues” shuffle mode, injecting a little twang into the proceedings; it’s a clever choice for a closer, and a snappy little tune.

For classic rock fans, The Howling Tongues will feel a little like musical comfort food, a familiar-sounding album of good ol’ sweaty, smoky, two-beers-and-two-shots blues-influenced heavy rock. Whatever it might lack in originality, all in all, The Howling Tongues is a promising debut, infused with the rippling energy and furious belief that fuel the core of this particular strain of rock and roll.

Rating: B

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