# 544- The LP version is here! This 12 inch vinyl LP is a very limited edition of 500 copies. The cover by John Seabury looks spectacular!
"How refreshing!! A new crop of musicians , who instead of embracing the all too prevalent "Wow look at me shredding loudly on the guitar" modality of blues performance, have instead chosen a minimalist approach, which strips both the classic blues tunes they interpret, as well as their wonderful original compositions down to the bare essence of what the blues is all about… "blues with a feeling." Played simply and with authenticity that is both old school and refreshingly new, HowellDevine plays great grooves sure to get everybody out on the dance floor in any juke joint in town!
I love HowellDevine and always take the opportunity to put on my dancing shoes & go enjoy them when they're playing in my neighborhood !"
~ Maria Muldaur
"I recently heard Howell/Devine and I really enjoyed their playing. Its nice to hear some guys playing good blues with taste these days. I wish them great success. I look forward hearing them again anytime I can. They're really good!!!"
- 2014 Grammy winner & Blues Legend Charlie Musselwhite
2012 International Blues Challenge finalists HowellDevine is the kind of blues you don't hear anymore. The raw slide guitar played by Joshua Howell evokes the Mississippi Hill Country greats like Fred McDowell and RL Burnside. The rhythm section of drummer and percussionist Pete Devine, along with the bass of either Safa Shokrai or Joe Kyle Jr., breaks from the norm in blues, providing rich and complex textures integral to the music rather than a simple backing section for a soloist. The result is a sound which stands in stark contrast to the typical blues heard in bars these days and would more likely be shaking the floors of a Southern juke joint some 70 years ago. HowellDevine brings life back to that sound, infusing the rural blues with their own unique style.
Check their website for upcoming shows: HowellDevine website.
1. Rollin’ And Tumblin’
2. Guitar Rag
3. Harmonica Wobble #2
4. Shotgun Blues
5. HowellDevine Boogie Woogie
6. Help Me
7. Soft Steel Piston
9. Mellow Down Easy (on CD only)
10. KC Blues
11. Mighty Long Time
12. Write Me A Few Of Your Lines (on CD only)
Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles
notes by Lee Hildebrand
Pete Devine was playing drums and washboard with Bo Grumpus when Chris Strachwitz came to see the ragtime trio some 22 years ago. The percussionist recalls that the producer didn’t like what he heard that night, although Strachwitz remembers that he did.
Whatever the case, Devine’s memory of that early encounter did not dissuade him from dropping by the El Cerrito, California, headquarters of Arhoolie Records years later with a copy of Delta Grooves, the debut release by a new retro-blues trio co-led by Devine and singer, guitarist, and harmonica blower Joshua Howell. (The CD was issued in February 2012 on Sparta Records, a label named after one of the percussionist’s numerous cats.) Strachwitz was so knocked out by what he heard that he drove across the bay to check out the guys doing an all-acoustic gig at the tiny Red Poppy Art House in San Francisco’s Mission District.
“It felt almost like sitting in a room in 1938,” the veteran record man says of the experience. “They were so tight. Devine was playing a little washboard, and he blew into a jug and made sounds with his mouth. Josh’s voice was really nice. There was no overdoing or under-doing, just straight out, the way blues were really sung. He played wonderful. It was almost all slide guitar on a National steel, and he played harmonica on a bunch of ‘em.”
Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles, HowellDevine’s second CD, is something of a milestone for Arhoolie. Launched by Strachwitz in 1960, Arhoolie was essentially a blues label during its decade in business, with a roster that boasted such giants as Lightning Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Fred McDowell, and Big Mama Thornton. The producer’s interests gradually gravitated toward Cajun, zydeco, Mexican, and other styles, however, and after the 1986 release of The Beginning by young Louisiana bluesman Chris Thomas, the company issued no further albums of newly recorded blues, other than the blues-infused zydeco of Clifton Chenier’s son C.J. Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles is therefore the first new blues recording to appear on Arhoolie in over a quarter century.
Judging from the vibrancy Howell, Devine, and standup bassist Joe Kyle Jr. (for whom Safa Shokral sometimes substitutes) bring to the Mississippi blues of both the hill country and Delta varieties and Chicago blues selections on the CD, along with Devine’s own “Shotgun Blues” and the two instrumentals of his and Howell’s invention, it’s no wonder Strachwitz is so crazy about the combo. The players are thoroughly steeped in old-school traditions, yet they are no mere revivalists and instead approach their material with a fun-filled sense of adventure. Howell’s singing, as Strachwitz noted, is strong yet never forced, his prowess on both Epiphone Dot 335 and National Duolian resonator guitars is awe-inspiring, and his unamplified harmonica work draws favorable comparison to his heroes Sonny Terry, Rice Miller, and Little Walter. Behind Howell, Devine and the bassist churn up an amazing array of syncopated rhythms. Devine incorporates a washboard that rests on his lap into a standard kit of Gretsch drums and Zildjian cymbals as he complements the bassist’s propulsive, frequently slapped patterns. For Miller’s “Mighty Long Time,” in a version different from the one on the trio’s previous CD, Devine switches to jug.
Joshua Howell was born in San Francisco on January 13, 1974, and was inspired early on by the blues records in his parents’ collection. He took up harmonica at age 14 in the hope that it would help him stop biting his nails – it didn’t work – and guitar at 16. At 17, he often sat in at the now-legendary Oakland blues joints Eli’s Mile High Club and Your Place Too. He spent eight years building classical guitars before relocating to Pai, a town in northern Thailand that boasts an international artists’ community. There he traveled by Moped between different bars and restaurants, playing three or four one-hour sets per night at each one, until, after three years, he was arrested, jailed, and deported for having worked without a permit. In July 2011, a year after returning home to San Francisco, he hooked up with Devine.
Pete Devine was born in Portland, Maine, on May 5, 1968, and as a child played along on pots and pans with his grandmother’s Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Spike Jones records. (Jones, he notes, was an outstanding washboard player.) He got his first set of drums when he was 6 and to this day uses the Ludwig bass drum pedal that came with it. Drummers Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton, Francis Clay, Fred Below, and Earl Palmer rank high on his list of influences. He settled in San Francisco in 1989, a year before his 15 years with Bo Grumpus ended. His extensive resume also includes stints with Lavay Smith, Mal Sharpe, the gypsy jazz band Gaucho, Maria Muldaur, and his own Devine’s Jug Band.
On October 28, 2012, HowellDevine was selected by the Golden Gate Blues Society to represent Northern California in Blues Foundation’s 29th International Blues Challenge in Memphis from January 29 to February 3, 2013. That showcase, along with the release of Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles, is sure to serve wide notice of a sound that’s both old and breathtakingly new.
-Lee Hildebrand , contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and Living Blues
Living Blues Magazine
The first Arhoolie blues release in 25 years, Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles is a sensation. Chris Strachwitz’ famed record label was a mainstay of the blues revival with Lightning Hopkins, Big Mama Thornton, Clifton Chenier, Big Joe Williams, Sonny Boy Williamson, Mance Lipscomb and more. The long Arhoolie blues hiatus has ended with this release by HowellDevine, a roots-blues combo from northern California.
Jumps, Boogies & Wobbles has a real King Biscuit Time vibe in sound, groove, and attitude. Joshua Howell, the band’s guitarist and harmonica player, plays wicked harp loosely in the Rice Miller tradition, with traces of Jaybird Coleman and Little Walter. The fiery Howell plays emotive, straight blues, with sharp and superb guitar sliding & picking. Apparently, nobody showed the rhythm section the playbook. They are wild, juxtaposing interesting syncopations and jazz beats. Drummer Pete Devine and contrabassist Joe Kyle Jr. are in their own dynamic creative realm, approaching the rhythm in a free, almost avant-garde way—a contrast that gives the ensemble an idiosyncratic edge.
Apt liner notes by LB’s Lee Hildebrand introduce this breakthrough project by a still relatively unknown ensemble.
The album offers twelve cuts, including three hot-licks guitar instrumental rarities by the great unsung country blues virtuosos Sylvester Weaver and Frank Hutchison, sweetly fingerpicked by Howell on the National resonator. It is packed with blues standards, starting with Muddy’s version of Rollin’ and Tumblin’ with Howell sliding it just right. Howell plays it safe, but perfectly, on Rice Miller’s Help Me, Willie Dixon’s Spoonful, Little Walter’s Mellow Down Easy, Sonny Boy Williamson’s (Rice Miller) Mighty Long Time and Fred McDowell’s Write Me a Few of Your Lines. The two originals are signs of good things to come.
— Frank Matheis — Living Blues Magazine
Arhoolie is one of those labels that provide a near-guarantee of quality. You might not always know the artist, the album title or the style of music under consideration but you can be sure that whatever it is, anything on Arhoolie will only have been released if it has met their own infallible in-house standards of taste, integrity and genuine enthusiasm for the variety of folk music indigenous to the Americas.
It is therefore quite a significant event when they released this CD recently with the claim that it is their first new release of original blues recordings for some 20 years. That is quite a billing, particularly if, like HowellDevine, you don't have a well established track record to back it up.
Fortunately, any doubts or fears are extinguished within the first few bars of the opener, a version of Rollin' And Tumblin' played with a Mississippi Hill Country-style slide guitar straight out of the Fred McDowell or RL Burnside textbook. By the end of the song, you just know you are in good company eagerly looking forward to the rest of the album.
With covers of other blues standards such as Help Me, Spoonful, Mellow Down Easy, Mighty Long Time and more, it would be easy to assume that you know what you are in for here. However, despite the familiarity of some of these songs, what you get is so much different to a typical modern-day blues band fronted by a hot blues guitar player. I'm still not sure if these guys are blues band playing blues songs as though they were a jazz band. They could just be a jazz band playing blues songs as though they were a blues band. Either way, this really swings and the instrumentation and interplay throughout the album is something else and mightily impressive.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than on Harmonica Wobble #2, an instrumental that starts as a harmonica-driven blues, introduces a honking R&B sax and then a barely-conceivable bass solo (only a jazz band would try this out, right?) before heading for the hills with the harmonica in the driving seat, seeing us out to the end of an all-to-brief six and a half minute highlight.
So who are these guys? Well, the singer, guitarist and harp blower is Joshua Howell, the drummer and washboard man is Pete Devine and the trio is completed by an assortment of guys on upright bass (dependent I guess on who was right for each song or available for each recording session). And that's pretty much all I know!
Despite the vagueness of the band, I can't recall the last time I heard a CD and knew from the get-go that it was the business (and been proven right). Try it yourself, I reckon you'll think the same!