Its not exactly a secret that HowellDevine play Mississippi Hill Country, Country and Delta Blues very, very well. The California-based trio — featuring Joshua Howell on guitar, harmonica, and vocals, Pete Devine on washboard and drums, and Joe Kyle Jr. on upright bass — is signed to renowned roots label Arhoolie Records, and has garnered glowing praise from their blues elders and aficionados alike since they formed in 2011. Still, one had the feeling during their show at The Freight & Salvage of being in on something special. Simply put, this trio makes up one of the more powerful, innovative, solid and satisfying engines putting out blues today.
“Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju,” the title of their latest release, is perhaps the most apt description of what they’re up to: reviving, reinterpreting and respecting the work of the likes of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Muddy Waters, while contributing a few originals to an already heady brew.
With little preamble, they took the stage and dug into Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied,” Howell wielding his ES 335 with assurance, as Devine and Kyle Jr. kicked into high gear, going from zero to 60 without batting an eye. Later in the set, after their no-holds-barred, deeply nuanced original “RailRoad Stomp,” someone in the audience called out “encore!” Most bands would be done after the ten-minute-plus effort which found Howell wailing on his multiple harmonicas, making his train come and go, steam and crash, lumber and coast over all sorts of sonic terrain. Meanwhile, Devine’s arms and legs were moving in all directions, picking out rhythms within rhythms, as Kyle Jr. ably kept the pace, a well-rooted tree in a winter storm, bending as needed, but not going anywhere. It was a test of endurance and strength as much as exhbit of musical prowess. But an hour-plus set is just getting started for these guys.
“Already?” Pete said in reply. “We got more!” The HowellDevine train can, does and is ready to go on for miles. And after a brief pause, they dug back in.