The Henrys Shrug
Review by Chris Nickson
The Henrys are one of those curious little Canadian enigmas. For almost 30 years now, they’ve been periodically emerging with new albums containing staggeringly good, inventive music, maybe playing a show or two, then vanishing back into Toronto like northern ninjas. They’re one of those bands where ‘if you know, you know’ is true, and if you don’t, well, you really should. Cult doesn’t quite hit the spot; I’m not sure they’re big enough for that. But they plough their own furrow and do it oh so well.
Shrug sees a small change, with leader/guitarist Don Rooke now handling most of the vocals, helped by Maggie Keogh, over one of the tautest rhythm sections in music, plus occasional guests. But everything remains honed, sharp, and ready to entertain and sometimes confound.
There’s philosophy in the lyrics, widely tempered with humor, as on “Shrug-A-Lug,” a tale of trying to live a good life in the modern world. It’s all intimate in presentation, with an informality that also manages to be very precise – listen to the interplay between instruments during the slide solo; it’s exquisite.
Even what might seem like throwaways are captivating. The funky and short “Monsieur Cliché” is a toe-tapper, with sly lyrics and slide guitar work to take your breath away with delight – and then it’s gone.
“Let Me Make This Plane” drips with longing, but the narrator seems to be held back, a step forward and another back. But life is like that, isn’t it, always trying to catch its breath and forge ahead. The Henrys seem to exist in the uncertainties of living.
"Ascension Day Night"
There’s always one song on a Henrys album that stands head and shoulders above the others. Here it’s “Ascension Day Night,” where all the masks are discarded and the heart is open and baring its emotions over a gorgeous chord sequence that meanders through the song. At times if feels as if the song is holding its breath through the winding spoken words. Undefinable but magnificent – which is perhaps the best way of describing album and band, too. They’re not…well, any label you want to put on them. They simply are, and you should be there with them.