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.
These guys are so old-fashioned that they come off as wonderfully fresh. Look for their next CD, slated for release on Arhoolie.
~ Lee Hildebrand, contributor to the SF Chronicle & Living Blues Magazine
"HowellDevine played a world-class set." (Regarding their performance at the Orpheum in Memphis) - Steven Suen (Owner of Biscuits & Blues)
"People give me CD's all the time, but this (Delta Grooves) CD is the first one I've listened to from beginning to end in years!" - Chris Strachwitz (Arhoolie Records)
"The backline depth and vibrancy adds richness to the electric slide work and harp, making for an interesting sound and giving a new edge to classic Delta blues...I must say this CD grew on me...I listened to the drums, the guitar work, the harp and the words and it was like a fire growing from a spark to a glow to full flames...These guys are well-honed musicians." - Steve Jones (Blues Blast Magazine)
Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) picks "Write Me A Few Lines" from HowellDevine's Delta Grooves album as the Blues Breaker, his pick of the week on the nationally syndicated Bluesmobile radio show.
"When they play Train,you don't get on their train, you become their train." - Devon Strolovitch (KALW - Fog City Blues)
"...[their] rhythm section manages to create a deep-pocket groove on every song - particularly when vocalist Joshua Howell whips out his harmonica." - East Bay Express