SOUL MAN Houlihan. [Photo by Harry Harvey III]
Singer-songwriter Will Houlihan returns under his Haunt the House moniker with Jack Rabbit Jones (75orLess Records), the full-length follow-up to the 2013 EP Rural Introspection Study Group. Expect a packed house in the upstairs lounge at the Columbus Theatre (where the album was recorded) this Friday when Houlihan and his Housemates return to headline their album release party (columbustheatre.com). Fans of Brown Bird, the Low Anthem, Iron & Wine, and Bon Iver should grab a copy of Jack Rabbit Jones ASAP.
The album gleams with a stirring, spiritually-inflected sound that well represents the band name on the marquee, as Houlihan explained when we caught up following a particularly stunning performance a few weeks ago at Theatre 82 in Cranston’s Rolfe Square.
“I started off playing solo at open mics and people would often tell me how haunting my songs were, but it also has a spiritual origin whereby the Holy Spirit is often referred to as ‘living within you’ after Christian conversion,” he said. “Our bodies are also called the temple of the Lord, so it just made sense to me that the Holy Spirit haunts your house.”
And while Houlihan remains the lyrical architect, this time around he has assembled an impressive backing House band which includes Stephen Law (mandolin), Vudu Sister’s Amato Zinno (upright bass), Bessie Bessin (accordion/vox), and backup vocals and harmonies from the best in the biz, Allysen Callery.
“I am really happy for Will — he is one of the sweetest, funniest, and most wise people I know,” Callery said after the show. “When he asked me to sing on his new album I was delighted.”
Houlihan also enlisted the Columbus Theatre and in-house mixologists (and Low Anthem co-founders) Ben Knox Miller and Jeff Prystowsky.
“I feel very blessed and fortunate to have worked with Ben and Jeff and the Columbus folks,” Houlihan said. “We couldn’t have asked for a more friendly, patient, and professional set of engineers.”
Prystowsky had nothing but praise for the House that Houlihan built. “Will’s voice sneaks up on you, it’s subtle and intense, and before you know it, he’s jumped into falsetto and a powerful wave of musical joy washes over you,” said Prytsowsky via email. “I remember him telling me his journey that led him to music and it was so compelling it inspired me for weeks. His music is charged, not just with an aptitude for words and melodies, but with a deep feeling of soul.”
Westerly/Charlestown native Houlihan decided to once again release his music via Warren-based imprint 75orLess. Label boss Mark MacDougall met Houlihan through artist William Schaff at his Fort Foreclosure, where MacDougall screenprints CD jackets and hosts his “That’s Not Incredible” podcast. 75orLess labelmate Callery had also been in MacDougall’s ear exulting Houlihan’s music. He caught a Haunt the House set and was convinced.
“Will happily embraced reverb on his vocals, reminding me of Jim James and Roy Orbison, while the music was stark, bare, and emotional,” MacDougall told me. “When I finally got to speak with him after the show, I found out how ‘organizationally challenged’ he was, and we agreed to start working together.”