the parade epThe Parade EP – Howlin’ Rats (Hiss and Crackle Records)

Doing anything new with the blues is a tough task. Doing something interesting is another matter. Newcastle, Australia, guitar-harmonica-drums trio The Howlin’ Rats, do just that on their debut five-song EP.

Opener “The Parade” is a harp-fuelled boogie stomp, an instrumental that serves to break the ice without busting any new ground. “MVII” is where things get interesting.

It’s an arcane slow-boiler that’s reminiscent of early ‘70s psych. Hobbit Harry’s winsome harp and a haunted vocal swim against waves of distorted slide guitar while drummer Tom Fairlie sits behind the beat and stirs the pot. It’s six minutes of splendour. Grass is optional.

Punk was supposed to kill prog but never finished the job. Is surf prog a thing? Instrumental “Moody Money Monday” could have been on the soundtrack of “Morning of the Earth”.

“Two Pacs” is the best anti-smoking song since the Celibate Rifles’ “Kent’s Theme” but subs firestorm six-strings for a gravelly vocal and some Mitchell Eaton slide guitar that has the consistency of a bucket of molasses.

Closer “Half The Bit That Is Missing” is another trippy instrumental that’s dominated by Easton’s indefatigable slide and Fairlie’s drums, with the assistance of beatbox style vocal accents.

The band is an outgrowth of the Hunter Region’s famed Hiss and Crackle record store and live performance venue,  (where the EP was recorded) and you’ll need to jump on their website to score one.  There’s no "try before you buy" Bandcamp option but trust me on this one when I say it bears up to repeated listening.