Album Reviews

The John Henrys – Sweet As The Grain

(9lb Records/True North) UK release date: 1 December 2008

The John Henrys - Sweet As The Grain Good ole unreconstructed country, that’s what’s on offer here from The John Henrys. It’s as if three decades and more of electronica never happened. Such music is far from original, of course, but if you’re inclined to like the genre, you’ll love this Ottawa foursome.

Pitching themselves somewhere between The Flying Burrito Brothers and Waylon Jennings (they’d throw in The White Stripes and Kings of Leon if they hadn’t stopped taking notice of the current music scene twenty years before either band emerged), their music is lively, loud and corn-chewing honest.

Backing this up is the usual country mix of lyric stories of cheap wine, broken hearts, farmyard romance and needles on the 45, all loving told in sweet country twangs that should be back-dropped by a heavy sun sinking below the horizon at the end of a dusty road that leads nowhere but the next farm.

Their instruments are as traditional as you’d expect from the sounds they produce: Rey Sabatin Jr on mandolin and harmonica (as well as vocals and guitar); Steve Tatone on piano, organ, lap steel guitar (and vocals); Doug Gouthro on banjo (and guitar and vocals) plus a drummer and bassist. It’s the tick boxes for a barn orchestra but it works.

This isn’t to say that every song on Sweet As The Grain is ploughed from the same furlough. They swing from mesa psychedelica on Lost In The Canyon and Truth Be Told to Hoedown barn dancin’ on No More Rock N Roll, stopping off everywhere you’d expect in between. With four vocalists to choose from, they deftly mix in different singing styles, too.

The result is charming, traditional without being old-fashioned and suffused with a sweet innocence that makes you want to clutch them to your rhinestone-clad bosom. Their off-stage lives reflect this: Sabatin Jr describes himself as having a background in ‘lutherie’ (guitar-making to you), the album is released on the band’s own label and in their home country it’s already hit the number one spot on the National Campus and Community Radio Folk Roots chart. Not MTV admittedly but somehow you know they wouldn’t want it any other way.

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The John Henrys – Sweet As The Grain