Back in 1974, Jagger sang “It’s only rock ‘n’ roll.” That’s all well and good, and usually that sentiment’s the proper one. But sometimes, it’s not only rock ‘n’ roll. Just ask Reese McHenry.
About a decade ago, the then 42-year-old McHenry and her band Dirty Little Heaters released an album and embarked on a tour. After she returned to her Chapel Hill, North Carolina, home, the shit hit the fan.
McHenry had been struggling physically. Turns out, she suffered multiple strokes and found out she had an irregular heartbeat. In the aftermath, McHenry spent two years in the hospital, had a pacemaker installed, and was often confined to her couch, energy and voice depleted.
It’s only been in the past few years that McHenry has slowly gotten her burgeoning music career back on track. In 2017, she released the solo LP Bad Girl, a lively set of roots rock. And this week she releases her second full-length solo album, No Dados.
It’s with No Dados that that Stones reference comes into play. The 13 tracks on the album are a solid amalgamation of garage rock and blues. If you like crunchy guitars and a voice that stirs up echoes of Janis Joplin, even down to the phrasing and delivery of the lyrics, No Dados is right in your wheelhouse. But that just makes it a cool album, something to listen and nod your head to. If that were all there was to it, No Dados would just be a pleasant, but ultimately forgettable, experience.
But what makes No Dados an album of note is the surrounding context, the twists and turns in McHenry’s life that led to this work, the way that shapes the music and the fact that at the end of the day, No Dados is presented with the determination of an artist making up for lost time.
Each of the 13 tracks is an expertly crafted and performed rough-and-tumble rocker. She brings a passion and urgency to her vocals that belies the fact that she was essentially bedridden and voiceless for a solid chunk of the last decade. Tunes like “Detroit” and “Bye Bye Baby” (an original tune, not a Big Brother and the Holding Company cover) come in hot, sounding like the work of a plucky upstart cutting loose with her band in the garage.
On No Dados, McHenry goes beyond genre expectations and offers insights and emotions rooted in where she’s coming from and what she’s endured. There’s the catchy “Fever,” with the chorus of “Oh, oh, this fever’s gotta go” or the raucous “White Bear Incident.” McHenry sings, “I just wanna lay in bed / Until I feel like myself again.” In different hands, those could be standard-issue rock lyrics. McHenry, however, delivers it from a place of realness. She isn’t just singing the words, she’s lived them.
They’re not only rock ‘n’ roll.