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Situation joyous Add to ...

Joyous Porous

The Henrys


Rating: ***½

Music became a thing when the first recording was made, and music ever since has tended to become more thing-like and less situational. A studio recording that feels like a situation is truly a rare entity, and eventful in the fullest sense of the word.

Music as situation requires rules, and a shared approach, but also demands enough freedom for sounds to find their way to the places where they need to be. In a word, it needs to be porous, and that's a joyous state indeed on the best tracks of this fourth album from the Toronto-based ensemble The Henrys.

Don Rooke, the group's main writer and lead guitarist, has a soft spot for front-parlour roots music. But he's equally drawn to a kind of cool abstraction that creeps up on his old-seeming tunes, and subjects them to an analytic, postnostalgic fondling.

The rough outlines of the method will be familiar to anyone who has heard a few Bill Frisell records, though the tone and the temper are quite different. Frisell mainly plays electrics, but Rooke's core instruments in The Henrys are the kona, the Weissenborn and the National Steel. These are all vintage acoustic guitars, and they provide him with a range of throaty, atmospheric sounds, and the basis for a meditative slide style. The Henrys love thick natural sounds like those of the pump organ that clacks and surges at the start of the title tune, and juicy old electronics such as the Mellotron, the Theremin, and the Arp synthesizer.

The density of the timbres allows for a kind of short-hand that suits the group's brainy, yet sensual, style. With just a few chords on the Weissenborn, Rooke can open a deep blues space in VF61,the opening track, then follow the groove into a strange pentatonic octave unison with bassist David Piltch, while trumpeter Michael White peppers the scene with distant aphorisms. It takes only a few acid guitar chords and a hustling rhythm line to set the stage for the drawling bluesy arioso that Mary Margaret O'Hara drops into One Body. This track feels like the antithesis of the neatly made studio number, though only on the groove-based Li'l Ms Demeanor did O'Hara (who contributes to six tracks in all) apparently wing it straight to tape.

There are two covers: Maria Elena,a genuinely old and sentimental tune from the thirties, and Charles Mingus's Goodbye Porkpie Hat,in a version so brilliantly understated as to make virtually every note a poem. Almost everything here works on first hearing, and works even better after that.

Joyous Porous is available at .

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