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John Henrys - White Linen

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 27 / 7 / 2010

John Henrys - White Linen
Label: 9LB Records
Format: CD


Solid third album of country/rock from dynamic Canadian quintet, the John Henrys

For their third album and the follow up to the well-received ‘Sweet As the Grain’ it’s much the same as we’ve heard before from The John Henrys on ‘White Linen’. That’s just fine as while some of the influence of The Band has been dropped in favour of a more Tom Petty sound no one can deny that what the John Henrys do they do better than most. Following the lead set by ‘Sweet As tThe Grain’ this latest album is once more split into an ‘A’ and ‘B’ side. Apparently the ‘A’ side reflects the influence of the city and side ‘B’ reflects stories from the country. I think I will have to live with the album a whole lot longer before I can comment on that but what I know just now is that the John Henrys have made that difficult third album an easy album to like with their country-infused brand of pop/rock. The five-piece Canadian band have always sounded like they have been playing together since birth so tight is the sound they make and they’ve lost none of the power and passion they displayed on their previous two albums. The jangly opening song, ‘Little One’, is the most Tom Petty sounding song here and one that makes you think that the band have maybe forsaken those southern soul touches that made some of the songs on “Sweet As the Grain” shine so brightly. It rocks along nicely and would be an outstanding song on many an alt-country album but it’s really the John Henrys by numbers; it’s what we’ve come to expect from them and doesn’t really hit home as hard as the opening song on their previous album which really blew your socks off. ‘Edge of December’ follows and the pedal steel and drum shots give way to the line “ Welcome back…” and we smile and realise that the John Henrys really are something special and that they are indeed back with a vengeance with their soulful side intact. It’s songs like ‘Edge of December’ where the John Henrys show that they are a band, not five individuals trying to make music together but a group of like-minded musicians who gel so well when they get together to make music. They’ve stepped outside their usual country / rock circle a little more with this release ; ‘Hit The Floor’ is more rock-orientated than most of their work and has a distinct southern rock influence which the band carries off really well. There seems to be so much going on with every song on this album, which are all band originals, that it’s not until the fourth song, ‘Peace Of Mind’ that your attention is drawn away from the guitar/banjo/pedal steel and mandolin that dominate all the songs and you remember just how good the members of this band are vocally. All five members contribute vocals throughout and the sound they make is stunning. For proof that the John Henrys not only play well together but were made to sing together too then a listen to ‘Peace Of Mind’ is all you need, with Steve Tatone’s organ matching those vocals for warmth it really is a highlight on the album. ‘Cold Chill’ is another song where the band takes another direction not previously displayed. It’s a deathly-slow murder ballad with searing guitar runs adding to an already atmospheric piece and even at five minutes plus it leaves you wanting for more of the same. The title song, ‘White Linen’ which opens the ‘B’ side of the album is the most Band sounding song this time. I’m sure the John Henrys are tired of being compared to The Band so often but it’s hard not to mention the similarities when they keep coming up with songs of the calibre of ‘White Linen’. It’s not just the structure of the songs which prompts the comparison but in the delivery and singing and, really if you’re going to be compared to another group, then it’s got to be a compliment if that group is The Band. The John Henrys haven’t made any leaps and bounds with ‘White Linen’ and why should they really when they are so good at what they do, but they have made a few tentative steps into unfamiliar territory and it has worked pretty well. It will be interesting to hear what direction the fourth album takes. In the meantime the eleven songs on ‘White Linen’ will satisfy our need for solid country / rock quite nicely thank you.

Track Listing:-
1 Little One
2 Edge of December
3 Hit the Floor
4 Peace of Mind
5 Cold Chill
6 White Linen
7 Stars Align
8 Good Man
9 Empty Pockets
10 Dawson City
11 Patriot Song

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Sweet as the Grain (2008)
Classic country rock on first international release for the Band and Gram Parsons-influenced Canadian group, the John Henrys

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