GRACE ('96), DESERT CURE ('98) The Henrys
Oh, baby, every once in a while you run into something really special. These two blessed discs by this apparently alien outfit from Toronto defy, decry, and refry description.
Our story begins with the irrefutable genius of leader and slide player Don Rooke. Mostly he plays an antique slide guitar called a Kona. He calls it "...a rare acoustic instrument with unique tonal purity. Konas were manufactured out of Hawaiian koa wood in the 1920's. It is played slide style, flat, with a small steel bar." In this case, when you're Don Rooke, it is played with sheer genius. He is the musical equal of slide masters Ry Cooder and David Lindley, as well as the phenomenal Dave Tronzo and Indian wonder V.M. Bhatt. His haunting compositions leave few genres untapped, combined and turned out like reversible flowers.
Along with the Kona, Don also uses a Weissenborn, National Tricone, and Hawaiian King guitars, and cuts the occasional acoustic track. The fretting guitarist is the graceful, the eloquent Monte Horton, a superb and very original player, first rate ensemblist. Producer John Sheard contibutes masterfully and essentially on keyboards, standing out memorably in select moments when called upon. David Trevis on bass and Michael Billiard on drums are an inspired, flawless rhythm section, a composer's dream. Michael White plays beautiful trumpet and conch shell, sparingly used. Special guest Mary Margaret O'Hara on vocals, she's simply amazing. Microtonal, sings in tongues, oblique and omnipresent, looming in the studio corners. Truly rare.
These landmark records of (mostly) instrumental genius cannot be found in stores, but can be purchased from the artist Don Rooke at their website. I am hard pressed to find words adequate to their level of artistry, but am conversely pleased to be able to offer our readers a chance to listen instead, to tracks jazzmospheric and sometimes lethally funky, sample a couple from each record on the Listen page. Incredible acts unknown, thugs rule. What a world. FG