Sexy shack-shackin music - that's Howell Devine, the massively talented NorCal trio became the first blues band Arhoolie Records (Fred McDowell, Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Mama Thornton) signed in 27 years. Triple threat talent Joshua Howell (slide guitars, harmonica, voice) and percussion savant Pete Devine (drums, washboard) plus snappy doghouse bassist Joe Kyle Jr. deftly mix sinuous Delta/country blues with wildly syncopated rhythms to create a rollicking present day sound from the past. HowellDevine breaks from the norm, providing rich and complex textures integral to the music rather than simple backing 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.
Review in Living Blues Magazine
The blues don't get much more old-timey these days than those played by Howell Devine, an acoustic trio that has been causing quite a stir in Northern California clubs. Joshua Howell sings in resonant tenor tones that bring to mind those of Slim Harpo, and he alternates between guitar and harmonica. Drummer Pete Devine, whose many credits include work with Lavay Smith and Maria Muldaur, creates unique rhythmic flavors by augmenting his trap set with a washboard strapped to his chest and a temple block resting atop his bass drums. Completing the personnel on the band's debut CD is slapping upright bassist Sam Rocha.
Howell echoes his subtly soulful vocals with shimmering Delta slides on haunting renditions of such numbers and Robert Johnson's Come On In My Kitchen and When You've Got A Good Friend, Fred McDowell's Write Me A Few Lines, Skip James' Devil Got My Woman, Muddy Waters' Honey Bee, and Jimmy Reed's Baby What You Want Me to Do. He sets aside his guitar from time to time and picks up a harmonica, on which he emulates Sonny Terry on a show-stopping band original call Train - an instrumental that speeds up, then slows down, with all three players locking in quite nicely - and uncannily captures Alec Rice Miller's harp style on Sonny Boy's Mighty Long Time. Devine perfectly compliments his partner's playing and singing by moving his sticks back and forth between snare drum and washboard to churn up often wildly syncopated patterns.