Material: At times their music seems to have its roots in southern rock (they were named after blues icon Howlin’ Wolf), while in other instances you can hear a hint of British influence. But however you define them, this band is devoted to classic rock in all its incarnations. As the pendulum swings back and forth on the rock spectrum, one thing is clear; the Howlin’ Souls are committed to their genre and are not beholden to any trend or flavor of the month.
Kicking off the set with the very uptempo and catchy "Alabama," which opens with a smoking lead guitar solo and some great fills, the band forges ahead with a sound that is reminiscent of genuine southern rock. In "Anyway You Take It," the band slows it down to a more moderate tempo, making it one of their more memorable songs. It’s thematically interesting to note a resurfacing theme where women take the lead and men are at their mercy and/or beck and call, as in “Black Heart”: I took a ride, dirty hustler washed me out with the tide ...a lipstick killer with a deviant mind...black heart.
Musicianship: What’s immediately noticeable is that every band member’s contribution is integral to making the sound work as a whole. The arrangements and timing of instrumental solos are spot-on and never crowd the vocals. Smith’s voice, in the style of Tom Petty, has the requisite amount of rock angst and just enough rough edges to properly express the music. Sokolowsky on bass and Lang (who played the rival drummer in the movie Whiplash) on drums are completely locked in, while Sepe on guitar comes through with one interesting guitar solo after another.
Performance: With a mere 30 minute set, the Howlin’ Souls their time on stage, moving from one song to the next, which might have been a conscious decision. That didn’t leave much room for interaction with the crowd, where some back story, quip or commentary tells us something about the artists or the songs, especially in a noisy club where the lyrics are not always audible. However, unlike many rock bands who rely on bells and whistles and stage antics, the band shines with the mindfulness of serious musicians, casting them in a more mature light. Frontman Smith’s amiable demeanor was evident as he introduced each song by title only.
Summary: No doubt the Howlin’ Souls are a devoted group of musicians and talented instrumentalists who can stand up to any rock band on the scene. But letting us in more to reveal what makes them tick and exploring new marketing tactics—to distinguish themselves from the herd—would serve them well.
The Players: Pete Smith, vocals, guitar; Robbie Sokolowsky, bass; Scott Sepe, guitar; Nate Lang, drums.
Photo by Mark Shwolich