ABOUT THE HENRYS
The Henrys is a Toronto-based ‘nearly-instrumental’
group that performs as a quartet (Don Rooke, Michelle
Willis, Mark Mariash, Andrew Downing), or quintet
(including Hugh Marsh), but records with a larger
stable of players. Led by Don Rooke, since 1990 the
band’s goal has always been to compose, record and
perform original music that has no obvious genre, but
draws on a variety of styles in an original, identifiable
way. In the words of Toronto Star reviewer Greg Quill:
"Toronto kona player Don Rooke and his ensemble of
like-minded abstract sound architects stand out on
their fourth album as the high-minded intellectuals in
their class, the quiet scientists scratching away at the
borders of the folk/time continuum. ‘Old instruments,
new sounds’ is the way Rooke describes what The
Henrys do - they extract from a resonator guitar and
other plucked acoustic instruments the harmonics,
overtones and oblique noises behind the rustic notes
to create landscapes that are astonishingly romantic,
frightening, sexual, spiritual - and quite beautiful. Brave
The music features the sound of an antique slide guitar
called the kona (and other slide guitars). Manufactured
out of Hawaiian koa wood in California in the 1920s, the
kona has a rare tonal purity. It’s played slide style, flat,
with a small steel bar. Mixed with vocals, organ, bass
and drums - and often unusual elements: conch shell,
quarter-tone trumpet, pump organ, chordette, odd
percussion pieces, sonar zombie, steel drums - the
sound of the band has been defined and refined over
The Henrys have been performing (on and off) for
almost 20 years, with concerts around the world.
They’ve played at the Sweetwaters festival in New
Zealand, the North Sea Festival in Holland, SXSW in
Austin, Luminato and Harbourfront Centre in Toronto,
the Vancouver and Calgary Folk Festivals, and many
other locations. They headlined at NYC's famous
Bottom Line in 1998. It is the eclectic nature of the
music that makes them equally at home in folk, jazz
and indie/alternative venues.
The group’s latest CD, Is This Tomorrow, is their fifth. It
joins four other internationally acclaimed recordings:
Puerto Angel (1994), Chasing Grace (1996), Desert Cure
(1998), and Joyous Porous (2002), as well as a solo CD,
Atlas Travel, by the band's leader.
The 1994 independent Canadian release of the first
disc, Puerto Angel, led to international exposure. Soon
after its release England's Demon Records (Elvis
Costello, Nick Lowe) released Puerto Angel in Europe.
The influential Q Magazine gave it a 4-star review. Mojo
called it "a delight on numerous levels." The CD was
subsequently released in the USA where Ink Magazine
described it as, "classic Americana. Wonderfully
arranged, sharply talented and springing from the
sheer joy of playing. Something extraordinary."
"The high-minded intellectuals in their class." Toronto Star
The elusive Henrys make a Joyous appearance
By ROBERT EVERETT-GREEN
Friday, December 6, 2002
The Henrys Hugh's Room in Toronto on Wednesday
If there's one thing the Henrys have learned about show
business, it's that you should always leave 'em wanting
more. The elusive Toronto band accomplishes this in the
easiest possible way, by hardly ever playing in public.
A new album is almost the only thing guaranteed to get
them on stage. Even then, the Henrys do not rush to meet
their public: Wednesday's CD-release show took place
four months after Joyous Porous, the band's fourth
album, came into the world.
Pent-up demand filled the tiered and tabled space of
Hugh's Room. By the end of the set, you could almost
hear the thought in most minds: "Why don't you guys do
this more often?"
The Henrys' distinctive sound is rooted in leader Don
Rooke's kona guitar, from which he can nurse everything
from a voice-like slide tone to something as dry and
articulate as a kalimba. He's a speculative kind of
musician, fond of abstract ways of looking at small riffs or
old-sounding tunes. His partners share his thoughtful,
follow-your-nose approach, though in all other ways
they're as independent as cats.
Jorn Andersen's drumming, like all good percussion,
supplied a grid for everyone to work with, but also shot
out a stream of witty annotations, buffing the beat smooth
or nailing it with a sharp whack. Like a classical actor,
Andersen prefers clear diction to noise and commotion,
which meant a miserly hand with the cymbals and a
mostly bone-dry tip to his stick.
Rob Gusevs's organ padded around on soft paws all
night, curling through the music so subtly that you almost
didn't notice how neatly it balanced things out. John
Dymond's bass came to the fore in a fine solo late in the
set, elsewhere partnering Rooke's melodic excursions
without missing a step.
Michael White lobbed his contributions in from a more
distant neighbourhood, coaxing a soulful moan from a
conch shell, blowing small fantasias on trumpet, or
fooling obscurely with a pile of spaghetti-cabled
electronics. The weird stuff that eked from his rig during
Thought You'd Never Ask put a special dreamland gloss
on this sepia-toned melody.
The Henrys' material wandered all over the lot, skirting the
blues in one number, flirting with tango in another. Some
tunes were a bit too tightly chained to a single riff, though
this mattered less when the band let go into jams such as
Rash, in which a resonator gizmo gave Rooke's kona yet
another tone of voice.
Such subtle variations would have been lost in most
Toronto clubs, but the attentive crowd and superb
acoustics at Hugh's Room let them be heard with perfect
clarity. This has to be the best small room for music in the
The show's only disappointment was the non-appearance
of Joyous Porous vocalist Mary Margaret O'Hara, who
proved herself even more elusive than the Henrys. The
nicest surprise, to my unacquainted ear, was the elegant
opening set by Dan Kershaw, who joined with fellow
guitarists Burke Carroll and David Baxter for a short set of
fine-grained urban country songs, including one about a
girl named Maybelline that fused affection and parody in a
tune that chug-chugged along at the speed of an old 78.
Thursday, January 14, 1999
Copyright 1999 The New York Times
Pop Life: Treats for Off-the-Menu Tastes
NEW YORK -- When critics say it was a mediocre year for
music, that's not the whole story. What they mean to say
is that it was a mediocre year for popular music. With
more than 25,000 albums released last year, the laws of
probability predict that at least a few dozen will fit each
taste. The problem is finding them. Record labels and
radio stations often make their decisions based on trends,
genres and lifestyle instead of along purely musical lines.
When the right music is released at the wrong time, it can
slip by unnoticed.
Below, the pop and jazz critics of The New York Times list
some favorite albums you may not have heard last year.
Some are hard to find because they are on small
independent or specialty labels; others were released
only abroad, and a few were neglected by their own U.S.
Hunting for some of these records can be an adventure.
The Henrys, "Desert Cure" (Trainrec/Canadian Arts
Council). Don Rooke's work on various slide guitars, from
the kona to the lap steel to something called a sonar
zombie, recalls the erudite ramblings of Bill Frisell. This
ensemble (which sometimes includes the vocalist Mary
Margaret O'Hara) surrounds his playing with sunset
~ Ann Powers
The follow-up CD, Chasing Grace, was greeted with
equal enthusiasm: "Sinuous slide guitars and
torque-wrench tight rhythms. The compositions and
playing are impeccable. Make this one of your
essential albums," said Folk Roots Magazine from the
U.K. Guitar Player Magazine commented on the next
CD, Desert Cure: "The third disc from this Toronto
combo firmly establishes Don Rooke as one of
acoustic guitar's greatest unsung heroes. Rooke is a
startling original who seems constitutionally
incapable of resorting to slide cliches."
Joyous Porous was recorded in Toronto during 2002
and again features the crystalline vocals of Mary
Margaret O'Hara, along with Toronto musicians David
Piltch, Jorn Anderson, Michael White, John Sheard
and Hugh Marsh. In a half-page review entitled
‘Situation Joyous”, Robert Everett-Green gave it 3.5
out of 4 stars, saying “virtually every note a poem.”
2009’s June release, Is This Tomorrow, a combination
CD/DVD, was the Globe and Mail’s Disc of the Week,
also earning 3.5 out of 4 stars. The additional DVD
has original still photographs set to more music by
the band and mixed in 5.1 surround.