Sensory Overload: Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons

From the December 6, 2012 edition

I checked my phone frequently during Angela Perley and the Howlin’ Moons’ EP release show Saturday — not because the show was boring (it wasn’t) but because this is 2012 and that’s what we do. Besides taking notes and shooting photos with the thing, I was feeding a chronically wandering mind.

I tell you this not to launch into another (accurate!) think piece about how technology is turning us into desperately isolated, relationally stunted cyborg/avatars. I’m just trying to explain why my brain wandered out of King Avenue Live and found its way down US-33.

Upon loading up Facebook, I learned that Nelsonville Music Festival, the regional treasure/Appalachian weekend getaway at which Perley and her band performed this year, had just locked down Wilco and John Prine as headliners for next year. Perley surely scored the festival gig in part due to connections from her stint at nearby Ohio University, while Wilco was booked for the band’s iconic stature, but both are very much Nelsonville music, NPR-friendly twang born from dive bars, coffee shops or the buskers in between.

I found my thought lines converging on stage in the form of sprightly country rock that played like the female equivalent of Wilco’s A.M. and the non-art-damaged parts of Being There. The comparison is a little too kind since Perley’s songwriting isn’t on Jeff Tweedy’s peerless plane, and her back porch rock sounds both more bookish (that may be the retro grandma glasses talking) and more legitimately rural (Athens rubbed off).

She sings whirling-heart rave-ups and stripped-down Opry ballads with an affected yelp; it doesn’t bother me because how’s that different from throwing tremolo on your guitar? Her capable use of singing saw is impressive, but not as impressive as her locomotive backing band. Perley’s greatest stroke of genius was assembling the ideal ensemble to make pleasant-enough songs feel like barnyard busters.

I usually don’t mess with alt-country this straight-laced, but the Howlin’ Moons hooked me at ComFest a few years back and continued to impress when I caught them at Brothers Drake early this year. By the time Perley and friends encored with the punny, propulsive title track from new EP Nowhere Is Now Here, lots of folks were dancing and I remained impressed.