ABOUT THE HENRYS
The Henrys is a Toronto-based ‘nearly-instrumental’ group that performs as a quartet, or quintet, but records with a larger stable of players. Led by Don Rooke, since 1990 the band’s goal has always been to compose, record and perform original music that has no obvious genre, but draws on a variety of styles in an original, identifiable way. In the words of Toronto Star reviewer Greg Quill:
"Toronto kona player Don Rooke and his ensemble of like-minded abstract sound architects stand out on their fourth album as the high-minded intellectuals in their class, the quiet scientists scratching away at the borders of the folk/time continuum. ‘Old instruments, new sounds’ is the way Rooke describes what The Henrys do - they extract from a resonator guitar and other plucked acoustic instruments the harmonics, overtones and oblique noises behind the rustic notes to create landscapes that are astonishingly romantic, frightening, sexual, spiritual - and quite beautiful. Brave new music.”
The music features the sound of an antique slide guitar called the kona (and other slide guitars). Manufactured out of Hawaiian koa wood in California in the 1920s, the kona has a rare tonal purity. It’s played slide style, flat, with a small steel bar. Mixed with vocals, organ, bass and drums - and often unusual elements: conch shell, quarter-tone trumpet, pump organ, chordette, odd percussion pieces, sonar zombie, steel drums - the sound of the band has been defined and refined over the years.
The Henrys have been performing (on and off) for over 20 years, with concerts around the world. They’ve played at the Sweetwaters festival in New Zealand, the North Sea Festival in Holland, SXSW in Austin, Luminato and Harbourfront Centre in Toronto, the Vancouver and Calgary Folk Festivals, and many other locations. They headlined at NYC's famous Bottom Line in 1998. It is the eclectic nature of the music that makes them equally at home in folk, jazz and indie/alternative venues.
The group’s latest CD, Quiet Industry, is their sixth. It joins five other internationally acclaimed recordings: Is This Tomorrow (2009), Joyous Porous (2002), Desert Cure (1998), Chasing Grace (1996), Puerto Angel (1994), as well as a solo CD, Atlas Travel, by the band's leader.
The 1994 independent Canadian release of the first disc, Puerto Angel, led to international exposure. Soon after its release England's Demon Records (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe) released Puerto Angel in Europe. The influential Q Magazine gave it a 4-star review. Mojo called it "a delight on numerous levels." The CD was subsequently released in the USA where Ink Magazine described it as, "classic Americana. Wonderfully arranged, sharply talented and springing from the sheer joy of playing. Something extraordinary."
"The high-minded intellectuals in their class." Toronto Star
The elusive Henrys make a Joyous appearance
By ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN
Friday, December 6, 2002
The Henrys at Hugh's Room in Toronto
If there's one thing the Henrys have learned about show business, it's that you should always leave 'em wanting more. The elusive Toronto band accomplishes this in the easiest possible way, by hardly ever playing in public.
A new album is almost the only thing guaranteed to get them on stage. Even then, the Henrys do not rush to meet their public: Wednesday's CD-release show took place four months after Joyous Porous, the band's fourth album, came into the world.
Pent-up demand filled the tiered and tabled space of Hugh's Room. By the end of the set, you could almost hear the thought in most minds: "Why don't you guys do this more often?"
The Henrys' distinctive sound is rooted in leader Don Rooke's kona guitar, from which he can nurse everything from a voice-like slide tone to something as dry and articulate as a kalimba. He's a speculative kind of musician, fond of abstract ways of looking at small riffs or old-sounding tunes. His partners share his thoughtful, follow-your-nose approach, though in all other ways they're as independent as cats.
Jorn Andersen's drumming, like all good percussion, supplied a grid for everyone to work with, but also shot out a stream of witty annotations, buffing the beat smooth or nailing it with a sharp whack. Like a classical actor, Andersen prefers clear diction to noise and commotion, which meant a miserly hand with the cymbals and a mostly bone-dry tip to his stick.
Rob Gusevs's organ padded around on soft paws all night, curling through the music so subtly that you almost didn't notice how neatly it balanced things out. John Dymond's bass came to the fore in a fine solo late in the set, elsewhere partnering Rooke's melodic excursions without missing a step.
Michael White lobbed his contributions in from a more distant neighbourhood, coaxing a soulful moan from a conch shell, blowing small fantasias on trumpet, or fooling obscurely with a pile of spaghetti-cabled electronics. The weird stuff that eked from his rig during Thought You'd Never Ask put a special dreamland gloss on this sepia-toned melody.
The Henrys' material wandered all over the lot, skirting the blues in one number, flirting with tango in another. Some tunes were a bit too tightly chained to a single riff, though this mattered less when the band let go into jams such as Rash, in which a resonator gizmo gave Rooke's kona yet another tone of voice.
Such subtle variations would have been lost in most Toronto clubs, but the attentive crowd and superb acoustics at Hugh's Room let them be heard with perfect clarity. This has to be the best small room for music in the city.
The show's only disappointment was the non-appearance of Joyous Porous vocalist Mary Margaret O'Hara, who proved herself even more elusive than the Henrys. The nicest surprise, to my unacquainted ear, was the elegant opening set by Dan Kershaw, who joined with fellow guitarists Burke Carroll and David Baxter for a short set of fine-grained urban country songs, including one about a girl named Maybelline that fused affection and parody in a tune that chug-chugged along at the speed of an old 78.
Thursday, January 14, 1999
Copyright 1999 The New York Times
Pop Life: Treats for Off-the-Menu Tastes
NEW YORK -- When critics say it was a mediocre year for music, that's not the whole story. What they mean to say is that it was a mediocre year for popular music. With more than 25,000 albums released last year, the laws of probability predict that at least a few dozen will fit each taste. The problem is finding them. Record labels and radio stations often make their decisions based on trends, genres and lifestyle instead of along purely musical lines. When the right music is released at the wrong time, it can slip by unnoticed.
Below, the pop and jazz critics of The New York Times list some favorite albums you may not have heard last year. Some are hard to find because they are on small independent or specialty labels; others were released only abroad, and a few were neglected by their own U.S. record companies.
Hunting for some of these records can be an adventure.
The Henrys, "Desert Cure (Trainrec/Canadian Arts Council). Don Rooke's work on various slide guitars, from the kona to the lap steel to something called a sonar zombie, recalls the erudite ramblings of Bill Frisell. This ensemble (which sometimes includes the vocalist Mary Margaret O'Hara) surrounds his playing with sunset tones.
~ Ann Powers
The follow-up CD, Chasing Grace, was greeted with equal enthusiasm: "Sinuous slide guitars and torque-wrench tight rhythms. The compositions and playing are impeccable. Make this one of your essential albums," said Folk Roots Magazine from the U.K. Guitar Player Magazine commented on the next CD, Desert Cure: "The third disc from this Toronto combo firmly establishes Don Rooke as one of acoustic guitar's greatest unsung heroes. Rooke is a startling original who seems constitutionally incapable of resorting to slide cliches."
Joyous Porous was recorded in Toronto during 2002 and again features the crystalline vocals of Mary Margaret O'Hara, along with Toronto musicians David Piltch, Jorn Anderson, Michael White, John Sheard and Hugh Marsh. In a half-page review entitled ‘Situation Joyous”, Robert Everett-Green gave it 3.5 out of 4 stars, saying “virtually every note a poem.”
2009’s June release, Is This Tomorrow, a combination CD/DVD, was the Globe and Mail’s Disc of the Week, also earning 3.5 out of 4 stars. The additional DVD has original still photographs set to more music by the band and mixed in 5.1 surround.