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'Blank Canvas' by Henery

Review

I really haven't concealed my admiration for the solo work of Henery in this magazine have I? Starting with live reviews which not only revealed how arresting a performer he could be live even without the rest of The Ellipsis but also the breadth & depth of his own original material, to the first three singles releases of his individual career, I think I have made my thoughts very clear.

Henery recorded eight tracks with that great producer John Rivers at Woodbine Studios thankfully before lockdown, though regrettably that latter phenomenon has prevented his promoting any of his releases to date live. May that change soon.

First up in February came his debut "In The Moment", then came "Little Brave" in April & last month we were given "To The Sun" for our pleasure. I hope you read the reviews of each in "Hot Music Live".

All three are very present & very correct on today's debut album ‘Blank Canvas'. However, since I am certain I covered all three very fully in my previous reviews, I trust you'll not mind if I consider them as read & focus instead on the additional five tracks, which are named "Bad Company", "Copycat", "Magic Fades, "Symmetry" and "White Feather".

Well firstly, there are certain things which hold true for them all: the sheer quality of all aspects of writing, production & performance (in addition to Henery's own singing & playing, bass and drums are courtesy of Eddie Hewitt).

Somewhere in the production process, interesting decisions have been made: from my experience of his live sets, Henery has considerably more than eight songs worthy of being recorded, so I imagine others are already earmarked for future release & the decision was made to limit the number of songs on ‘Blank Canvas' to increase the impact of each upon us listeners & to let us savour them the better.

"Bad Company" shares with the earlier singles that catchy memorability that they all demonstrate (though frankly this applies to everything I've heard from him to date), built on a tasty if discreet guitar lick & progressing on a breezy tune borne by that instrument & enthusiastic drumming with plenty of light & air left in the mix by John, so that however compelling the playing is, it's Henery's distinctive vocal which predominates. And rightly so. A story of very mixed emotions towards another, it is one of the ones which stood out first time I heard it.

Another such is album closer "White Feather", another rather baroque number like "In The Moment". In this intense ballad with gorgeous guitar work, John & Henery have worked together to create a somewhat different vocal sound to excellent effect: absolutely not artificially processed but offering his individual singing yet in subtly original tones. This could make another great single: though I could make a case for every track to be honest.

"Copycat" is much more driving a number (though nothing on the album approaches full on rock) and as such adds variety to the set (the running order clearly is something that has received considerable thought) and I really liked the guitar solo.

Track five is "Magic Fades": another really intense number with Henery producing an anguished vocal set against appropriately edgy & restless instrumentation: this one will I'm sure be a live favourite once audiences get to hear it.

The final song for comment (although it is really the penultimate track in terms of running order) is "Symmetry": a stately dance of a song, with captivating images in the words and unusual soundscapes (cymbals sizzle throughout for example).

I think prejudging albums isn't very good for any reviewer & having certain expectations can set you up for all sorts of reactions, but in this case I knew from a long time before hearing it, let alone knowing the title, that this album would be faultless & a really strong start to what hopefully will be a long & glorious solo career. It's good to be proved right, but don't just take my word for it, please go & listen (and buy) for yourselves.

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"To the Sun" by Henery

Review

One of the many disappointing aspects  of lockdown (and I write this on a day when I would otherwise have been anticipating Leamington Peace Festival & reviewing the acts I should have seen there)  has been loss of momentum of artists' career arcs. Far too many have had their's stalled by events just as acceleration was clearly underway. I hope through the pages of this magazine, "Hot Music Live Presents" and social media we have tried to keep their names and talents within public awareness.

The most unfortunate examples of this must be artists right at the start of their careers: not necessarily hopefully those who were slowly building writing & performance skills but certainly those at crucial moments. One obvious example has been singer-songwriter Henery whose superb collection of originals I have long been telling you about & whose debut album recorded at Woodbine Studio with John Rivers will showcase many of them. However his debut single from these sessions "In the Moment" came out (and was reviewed) just before the cessation of live music & the follow up "Little Brave" was released in April. When he should have been playing all this material live to promote it, the opportunity was denied him….. Now the third (and final) single from the album, namely "To the Sun" is released today within much the same environment.

Crafted to same excellent standards as its predecessors, "To the Sun" manages to attract your attention from bar one as they each do: Henery & John clearly pay great attention to detail in the recordings yet without making the song feel contrived: it swings along very naturally, but not a second is wasted nor filler. Funkier than the two earlier singles, the song does seem to have (pop) chart appeal & potential & is danceable in a way they did not necessarily aspire to be. Little shifts in dynamics keep your attention & every time the mood swings towards the anthemic, he neatly reins it in before the boundaries of taste are exceeded. As with the others, the musicianship is both impeccable & imaginative.  I assume the tone & title mean that Henery had this down as a "summer song" all along, but as with several other recent releases, I can't help but hear resonances of the current state of affairs within it: a song of liberation, Henery sings "I want to feel free again". He speaks for us all.

We can look forwards to Henery's album being released in due course (no virus can possibly detract from its qualities) and I am confident we'll see him performing the songs with the same warmth & commitment I have reported on from when he was able to play. I hope we can pick up with his career where it should have been back in the Spring of 2020 and judge & enjoy his songs on their considerable merits. Momentum & seizing the moment have traditionally been so vital to launching careers (and let's not forget that the context for these observations is Henery building a new solo career after the considerable critical & popular success of the Ellipsis) but traditional ways of doing things have had to set aside in recent months so with luck the pause will not, in the longer term, put him off his stride.

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"Little Brave" by Henery

Review

In February (and how long ago that feels today), I had the pleasure of telling you about "In The Moment", the debut single by singer-songwriter Henery and the first released fruits of his sessions with John Rivers at Woodbine Street Recording Studios, which will in time come out in their full glory as an album.

Today, amidst all the madness, the second track & hence single, "Little Brave" is available for you. Henery herein demonstrates how wide his range in writing & performing is. If "In The Moment"  "grabs you from the very first bar, opening with a most imaginative almost madrigal setting (how often do you hear that?), the haunting melody sounds totally fresh yet at the same time, almost timeless" as I suggested, then with its follow up he goes for something  less fragile (though he does ironically feature the word in his lyrics) & more driving: just as memorable, based upon an insistent & compelling guitar riff. With once again his strong & confident singing sitting nicely & prominently on top of the arrangement (which features an attractive almost skiffle type drum) and unlike its predecessor there is a little light and tasteful processing.

If the musical tone is breezy, the words are rather self deprecatory and the tension between the two works well: there seems a deal of good will being offered to the subject of the song, the person for whom he doesn't feel that he's good news.

One highlight of the whole piece is the way the arrangement suddenly kicks into greater complexity, adding depth & majesty (as his voice still rides above it) yet despite the simultaneous introduction of new sounds, the production is so good that each is crystal clear & the arrangement & performance so inventive that you can actually delight in each individual part: the guitar, keyboards and especially the funky bass all have something interesting to say.

This song will grab you & stay in your head from first hearing (a quality his songs all have) & I hope in these strange times it will get the play & publicity it deserves since it has the qualities to be a commercial success. For the time being you can also chalk it up as a critical success too.

Back from his recent extended European tour, one would normally very much look forwards to hearing Henery promote this material live (as I have mentioned previously, he has a really strong set of originals & is a powerful solo performer). That can't happen just yet, but it's really worth looking forwards to & I hope he'll be back out playing in time for his album launch.

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"In The Moment" by Henery

Review

I first reviewed Henery & his music for "Hot Music Live" eleven months ago when I saw him  supporting Ellie Gowers: "Henery was a revelation. This was, he told us, his first solo gig of his original material in half a dozen years...... he has some extremely well crafted songs" and when I saw him a few months later, not only was he as good if not better, but played several different songs to the ones he had played first time. Even then, he clearly had more than an album's worth of material strong enough to release & I sincerely hoped that would happen. At the time of course, his band the Ellipsis were his main priority & who could blame him for devoting his time to them? Sadly though, the talents & projects of all members have precluded their being able to spend enough time together on the band and so although no longer able to work together, we have had the bonus/consolation of John Connearn's debut single "First Things First (reviewed in "Hot Music Live" last month) and now the long awaited debut from Henery.

He has spent his time wisely, choosing which tracks to record & how best to do so. He has had the fortune to work with one of the best producers possible in John Rivers at Woodbine & I gather they have worked extremely hard to capture the songs precisely as Henery envisages them.

The first fruits of this collaboration is the single "In The Moment" out today. As you might imagine, the combined effects of having many tracks with the potential to be singles, a perfectionist approach to recording & the support of someone like John with his experience & taste, the outcome is a humdinger.

Like all great songs, it grabs you from the very first bar, opening with a most imaginative almost madrigal setting (how often do you hear that?), the haunting melody sounds totally fresh yet at the same time, almost timeless. An instant classic.

Exquisitely arranged & produced, the mix quite rightly places his voice prominently above the accompaniment & shows it off to great effect. It builds up nicely to add expression but not relentlessly so: it finds its own level quite early on & doesn't surge on to anything bombastic like a power ballad. It has strong dynamics yet retains a haunting, yet paradoxically also joyous, quality throughout.

This is superior writing: clichés are avoided whether lyrical or musical & it simply reeks of integrity of message. As a statement of intent this is an ideal start for Henery, demonstrating his compositional & performance skills with none of the commercial tricks of over production nor vocal processing which many seem to feel necessary to "fit in" with what mainstream radio favours. Nor does this sound like someone trying too hard to make an impression: Henery sounds utterly at ease & again this adds to the sense of truthfulness.

Just because he has decided to go down the route of originality rather than pandering to other templates by no means suggests that the song won't do well: if anything quite the opposite because it does stand out from the crowd.

This is a new solo talent for us to enjoy & one who possesses everything he needs to do really well. I look forwards to the album when it comes out & more live performances: I'm sure you'll enjoy both too.

Check out the excellent video from Paul Newbold at Lightspark Music Photography documenting Henery's recording at Woodbine.

 

https://www.facebook.com/create.lightspark/videos/211828166674787/

 

The dignified single sleeve design is by Hannah Cromwell

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