The Henrys / Joyous Porous
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The Henrys
Joyous Porous
TrainRec (

cd cover Listening to Joyous Porous, the fourth release of Canadian group The Henrys, is akin to reading one of those books of short stories where every tale transports you to places you had never imagined, to worlds rooted in things you know and have experienced, but at the same time are new and surprising and just a little weird. On Joyous Porous, you recognize the instruments, and some tunes sound vaguely familiar, but you've never heard instruments and rhythms and timbres put together in quite this way. It's all a little ramshackle, slightly off-kilter, wheezy and rambling. One moment the song is going along as you expect it and then, quietly it's gone somewhere else, in a way that you never anticipated.

The centerpiece on Joyous Porous, for the most part, is the playing of The Henrys' leader Don Rooke, mainly on vintage acoustic slide guitars like the National Steel, the Weissenborn, and the Hawaiian kona. Rooke's playing is pure, inventive, and often confounding of expectations. To my mind, Rooke is most impressive on The Henrys' cover of "Goodbye Porkpie Hat." It takes awhile to figure out that this dark song, with Rooke's national steel and David Piltch's double bass foregrounded, is the famous Mingus tune. With the slide guitar slipping and meandering everywhere, it's jazz from some other dimension.

Although Rooke's various guitars are the instrumental focus, The Henrys on Joyous Porous are nine musicians playing twice as many different instruments, some of which I had never heard of (sonar zombie, modcan). On the title cut, John Sheard's pump organ is used brilliantly to creaky effect. Michael White provides jazz-inflected trumpet bursts to the opening cut "VF61." Throughout the album, White also offers up various squeaks, whines and moans from vintage electronic instruments like the theremin, arp synthesizer, and mellotron. The jacket cover states that Joyous Porous was recorded at "Cellars and Spare Bedrooms, Toronto/Santa Barbara," but this is no amateur sounding release. The careful mix of instruments and tonalities rather lends Joyous Porous the flavor of some avant-garde basement tapes.

As on The Henrys' previous releases, Mary Margaret O'Hara delivers the vocals on a few numbers. "One Body" is a jump-country blues penned by Henrys' bassist David Piltch, coming from some alien delta, with O'Hara moaning incomprehensible lyrics, backed by eerie and subtly distorted slide guitars. As if to demonstrate O'Hara's versatility, the very next song, "Strangel," is, by comparison to the rest of the material on Joyous Porous, fairly straight-up folk-pop, with up-beat and clearly-enunciated vocals. Then there's the aptly-titled "Lipstick, Ferrous Scrap," suggesting a female muttering to herself at a junk heap. It's all jerky, clanging percussion and restrained feedback, as the woman utters words you mostly can't make out, but the phrase, "I got lipstick, a better lookin' chick," comes through clearly.

Joyous Porous could be characterized as a kind of Flannery O'Conner Middle Americana. It's like watching your first spaghetti Western, when the Old West you thought you knew all of a sudden looks weirdly distorted. It evokes the haunting atmospherics of John Fahey or of Tom Waits when he uses his invented instruments to take us to some other offbeat time and place. It's in the best tradition of those brilliant Canadian forerunners of what's now called Americana, The Band (okay, 4/5 Canadian) and Neil Young. And, when the prevailing sentiment in the US is to get government out of everything except surveillance and war, you've gotta love this: the recording of Joyous Porous "was made possible through the assistance of the Music Section of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Toronto Arts Council." Thank you, Canada. - Ted Swedenburg

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Audio (c)2002 The Henrys/Train Rec, used by permission

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