MILHEIM - The Howlin' Brothers don't have much reason to sing the blues this year, but that's OK with them. The Nashville-based genre-busting band will bring their romping and heartfelt Americana/bluegrass tunes to Elk Creek Cafe, 100 W. Main St., beginning at 5 p.m. March 2.
The three-piece band is comprised of Ian Craft (vocals, banjo, fiddle and mandolin), Jared Green (guitar, harmonica and vocals) and Ben Plasse (upright bass, banjo and vocals).
The three musicians met as students at Ithaca College, where they discovered a shared love for bluegrass and old-time music. This led to a move to Nashville in 2005, where they put their unique brand of Americana to the test.
The Howlin’ Brothers, pictured from left, are: Ben Plasse, Jared Green and Ian Craft.
The Howlin' Brothers' name is a bit deceptive - counter to stereotype, this group is described by reviewers with words like "passion," "energy," "upbeat" and even "wallop." Frontman Ian Craft said the band loves surprising its audience.
"I think any time you have a banjo and a fiddle, people kind of assume it's going to be a straight bluegrass band. But a lot of times the feedback is people saying, 'I hate bluegrass music but I like you guys.' So I think that's a good thing," Craft said in a phone interview.
The band's 2013 release, "Howl," made use of electric guitar and keyboards, as will the forthcoming April release, "Trouble." Both albums were recorded with Readymade Records, the label founded by Brendan Benson of the Raconteurs.
" 'Howl' is pretty all over as far as genres. This album is going even further than that," Craft said. "It goes out there from I think what people are going to expect. It's going to be really exciting."
Elk Creek Cafe's audience can look forward to hearing yet-to-be-released tunes from "Trouble" at next month's show in addition to the band's regular lineup, which relies heavily on originals.
"We'll throw in traditional tunes, like folk tunes or old-timey tunes," Craft said, adding, "A lot of times bluegrass and old-time (music) can get kind of boring after an hour. You're hearing the same thing over and over. We like to change it. We'll do a cajun tune and we'll do a straight blues tune, and then a bluegrass tune. Just to keep ourselves interested, we kind of switch it up a lot. I think people like that."
The band will have the chance to share its tunes all over the country this year with an extensive tour that includes performances at the International Folk Alliance Conference in Missouri; South by Southwest (SXSW) in Texas; the GRAMMY Museum's Rolling Stones Tribute Party; and Moonlight on the Mountain in Alabama. Craft said the Howlin' Brothers look forward to touring again with Wood & Wire, and playing with Chuck Mead of BR549 as well as the Honeycutters.
This month will also bring the release of PBS' recordings of the band's session at the lengendary Sun Studios, made famous by the likes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. An EP, "The Sun Studio Session," was released in October.
Craft described the recording as an "unbelievable experience" despite the lack of air conditioning in the tiny studio.
"There was like six or seven of us crammed in this small little room. I joke that you can hear the sweat on the recordings," he said, adding that the atmosphere of the studio is difficult to describe.
"It's just the Sun feel, like Jerry Lewis and Carl Perkins(' music), there's like a certain vibe on those recordings. I didn't understand it until I went there and then I got it," he said.
The band made use of this vibe by including a Carl Perkins song in the session; the song "Dixie Fried" is the only cover on the album. Some videos from the session are available on YouTube.
In most videos, the band sticks with a certain format and each members plays a particular instrument for most songs. Craft said the Howlin' Brothers look forward to mixing things up on their new tour: "Last year when we were touring, we pretty much just stuck to our normal instruments. I switched between banjo and fiddle but this year we're planning on switch more," he said.
The audience can look forward to Plasse jamming on guitar, Green pounding a keyboard and Craft playing the instrument on which he learned music, percussion.
For more information on the Howlin' Brothers, visit thehowlinbrothe rs.com. They can also be found on Facebook at face book.com/HowlinBro thers and Twitter at @Howlin Brothers.
For more information on the Elk Creek Cafe show, visit elkcreekcafe.net.