The Henrys’ Unlikely Exposition
Credit the Henrys for dispelling the notion that all Canadian roots music more or less echoes the sounds that come from the opposite side of the border. While our neighbors to the north have an exceptional tradition of fostering authentic Americana – a style sown by their own rugged prairie roots as well as a heritage birthed below the 49th parallel – it’s rare to find a band that’s able to expand on that template and produce something so wholly unexpected.
Ironically, the Henrys aren’t nearly as well-known here in the States as many of their Canadian brethren are, something of an irony considering the fact that their origins stretch back some 21 years and encompass six albums, including this year’s Quiet Industry. It’s also a curious turn of fortune in light of the fact that one of the Toronto-based band’s acknowledged leaders, Don Rooke, has a resume that lists such luminaries as Margaret O’Hara and the Holy Modal Rounders. Then again, to my ears, theirs is a sound that’s not as instantly accessible as, say, the Skydiggers or Blue Rodeo. It’s quirky at times, semi-serious at others, often coming across like a chamber quartet caught up in classical intentions.
One reason for those eclectic inventions could be the participation of violinist and Henrys mainstay Hugh Marsh, the musical mastermind behind Bruce Cockburn and Jon Hassell. Marsh’s often unlikely arrangements take his charges’ music to a certain fringe, a place where the avant garde somehow manages to find common ground with melody. Likewise, the group’s professed fondness for more exotic instrumentation – kana guitar (an antique koa wood slide guitar), pump organ, and other less common accoutrements – add a certain fascination to the usual guitar-bass-drums lineup. Taken in tandem with the words of vocalist Gregory Hoskins and contributions from bassist Andrew Downing, keyboardist John Sheard, pianist and string arranger Jonathan Goldsmith, drummer Davide DiRenso, and harmony vocalist Tara Dunphy, the band creates a most mesmerising motif.
Quiet Industry illustrates that dichotomy to a great degree, with low-cast ballads like “As I Say I Do,” “A Thousand Corners,” “Dangers of Travel,” and “Last One Here” sharing tracking time with ornate instrumentals such as “Invention of the Atmospheric Engine” and “Was Is.” It’s an odd juxtaposition at times, and when combined with such nocturnal laments as “Needs Must” and “The Almighty Inbox” – and an occasional abstract concoction along the lines of “Burn the Boat” – the overall effect is as impressive as it is intriguing.
Laurie Brown, host of “The Signal” on CBC Radio, remarked in a review, “Brilliant production once again from the Henrys. I have used their CDs to buy two stereos in my lifetime. The sound is that good. Do your stereo – and your head and heart – a favor. Let them chew on the Henrys’ Quiet Industry CD.”
That would seem quite a compliment coming from an audiophile of a certain stature. Ultimately though, the Henrys deserve widely recognition from the rest of us as well.