The muck, mire, and solitude of a bog make it a hell of a spot to get permanently stained by the Blues. It lives, it breathes, and it’s the perfect hideout for those looking deep inside the soul. Life and love of music began for harmonica player, composer, and vocalist Howlin’ Whale in the elusive, old-growth marshlands of New England. Around 2011, she began honing the psychedelic harmonica style she calls “bog,” inspired by the sounds of that wild world. With unrelenting wanderlust, her travels landed her in LA, where she lent her harmonica skills to locals Sea At Last on their album Atlas. She co-wrote “Castle” with them, which premiered on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. The band’s label GYPSYPOP RECORDS took notice of the textures and soul she wrung out of her harp, and she soon went to work on her debut EP, Many Lives. “Rat” is Many Lives’ first single – and it’s a powerful introduction to Howlin’ Whale.
Time spent among tree trunks and train tracks changes the wanderer forever. A sixth sense emerges that rings the alarm when something’s a little off; it’s not paranoia when you’re right, and it’s a superpower when you know what to do about it. With lives at stake, “Rat” makes a furious call for spiritual assistance in the banishment of treacherous forces from a community under attack. Howlin’ Whale spits foreboding rhymes with a primal, fierce flow over her electrified 5-piece’s snake-slither roadhouse Rock and Blues. She demands answers to a KRS-One-style hypothetical: “What do you do when there’s a rat in our midst?” “Rat” becomes an incantation, invoking a spirit of righteous fury who answers with the ferocity of a cat about to catch its next meal. Reggae rhythms, wailing six-string leads, animalistic harmonica blasts and a seriously ominous groove drive home a story that does not end well for the rat, should it fail to heed this final warning.
Howlin’ Whale and her band, Fire Mist, Kavika G, M.Cat Spoony, and Tyler Hammond, run through “Rat” in the claustrophobic confines of a small, dimly-lit room. Director Immanuel Otto shoots from the point of view of someone front and center, taking it all in. Are we seeing things through the bloodshot eyes of a regular at a juke joint that has plenty of liquor but no license? Or are these the final moments of our rat, as it looks frantically from member to member, suddenly eager to flee? No matter, because right now, Howlin’ Whale is in the house, and they’re cleaning up. They duck, swing, lunge and sway under a menacing, psychedelic spell of their own making. It’s all filtered through a black and white haze, as if Howlin’ Whale is reminding us that while she’s put many miles between her and the woods, that true-to-her-roots grime is never coming off.