Atlas Travel

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Nuevo Laredo • Palma de Mallorca • Alexandria • Donegal Bay • Villa Huidobro • Little Alpold, Hungary • Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe • Bourbannais • Most, Czech Republic • 62n 103e Siberia • Blackpool • Filadelfia, Paraguay • Shimoda • Mahina, Iles du Vent
Basse-Terre Guadeloupe

ALL RECORDINGS: Paydirt (2020)Quiet Industry (2015)Is This Tomorrow (2009)Joyous Porous (2002)Desert Cure (1998)Chasing Grace (1996)Puerto Angel (1994)The Yearly Ears (dig.comp.’94-98) • Coasting Notes (by Three Metre Day)Atlas Travel (2003)

Atlas Travel is a solo project by Henrys leader Don Rooke, but it’s far from solo. There are lots of Henrys band members on it, but it’s a different approach to music on the acoustic lap slide guitar – small compositions in a variety of small settings. Among the contributors is Swedish nyckelpharpa artist Johan Hedin.

BEST of the BEST 2003

Georgia Straight Mag, Vancouver, 
Dec 11/03

Sublimely beautiful melodies and crystalline 
arrangements feature heavily on Don Rooke’s 
first solo CD, with pump organ, steel drums, and 
nyckelharpa backing the Henrys bandleader’s 
elegant and unhurried acoustic steel guitars. 
Otherworldly, intimate, and familiar, all at the 
same time. 


Offbeat Archives
Rooke Takes a Sonic Trip With Atlas Travel 
By Alexander Varty 
Publish Date: 22-Apr-2004 

Some performers live and breathe music. 
Melodies come whistling from their lips as freely 
as rain falls from Vancouver skies, and 
whenever they sit at the piano or pick up the 
guitar all the right chords just beg to be played. 
Others, though no less talented, seem to lack 
this gift. And while I can’t say that Don Rooke 
falls into the latter camp, the strategy he took 
while creating his solo debut, Atlas Travel, 
seems to indicate that, at the very least, he’s 
interested in finding ways of conceptualizing his 
art before bringing it fully into being. 

When the Toronto-based guitarist decided to 
take a break from his long-running band the 
Henrys–whose four CDs rank with the finest 
music this country has produced–he also 
reckoned he needed to distinguish his solo work 
from his ensemble output. So he decided to 
keep the tunes starker, if not simpler, and opted 
to work with smaller instrumental forces. More 
than half of the 14 tunes on Atlas Travel, for 
instance, lack bass and drums. But Rooke also 
felt that he needed to bring some unity to an 
album that might otherwise seem a collection of 
unrelated sketches, and so he started to 
associate each piece with a particular imaginary 

“I had the tunes, and then I gave them working 
titles, which were the names of countries,” he 
explains, on the phone from his home. “And that 
did set the mood, but then I thought a country 
name was too general; it didn’t really imply what 
I wanted it to imply. So then I resorted to the 
atlas to find locations with interesting names, so 
I would get the double benefit of having an 
interesting name and also an evocative location 
that would, ideally, suit the music that I’d written. 
Once I knew the names of the tunes, I’d add 
players and stuff that would reflect that; there 
was a conscious effort to make music that made 
sense in terms of the geography. But then again 
I haven’t been to any of those places, so it is 
sort of a conceit.” 

Atlas Travel’s global scope is reflected in the 
instruments used in its making. The bandleader 
plays a variety of strings, but his main instrument 
is a Kona Hawaiian guitar, built in Los Angeles 
during the 1920s by brilliant luthier (and alleged 
bigamist) Hermann Weissenborn. Meanwhile, 
his guests employ everything from the familiar 
fiddle and mandolin to Armenia’s clarinetlike 
duduk, Chinese and South Asian flutes, African 
kalimba, and the Scandinavian nyckelharpa. The 
sound might be colourful, but the disc as a 
whole tends toward the dark end of the 
emotional spectrum, although Rooke isn’t 
entirely happy with that description. 

“Well, I didn’t intend to impose melancholy on 
those parts of the world,” he says. “I guess I 
wanted to evoke a mood–and then I’m sure 
some of those moods did turn out to be 
melancholy, but that wasn’t the original intention, 
and it wasn’t the philosophy behind it. I guess I 
see them more as just miniatures, studies for 
the Kona where I worked out melodies and tried 
to harmonize them.” 

Melancholic or not, Atlas Travel made my top-10 
records list for 2003, and I’m certainly planning 
to be in the crowd when Rooke makes his first 
solo appearance in Vancouver, at St. James 
Community Hall on Friday (April 23). Adding to 
the attraction is that he’s not going to be alone 
on-stage for the entire night: as the first stop on 
a cross-Canada tour organized by local indie 
Black Hen Records, he’s sharing the bill with 
accordion-toting agitator Geoff Berner and string 
king Steve Dawson. 

“I’m looking forward to playing with them, but I’m 
also looking forward to meeting them,” Rooke 
says drolly. “But yeah, since we’re all solo Black 
Hen artists, we’re planning on each doing our 
own things and then teaming up in different 
permutations. But I don’t know Geoff at all, 
although I’ve listened to his record. The one 
thing I heard from him was something like, ‘Do 
whatever tunes of mine you want to do. Play on 
whatever ones you want to play on.’ He doesn’t 
want to be pinned down, so that’ll be fun. But I 
suspect things will get a little more concrete 
when we get together.” 

Naturally, this raises the question of how Rooke 
plans to prepare for making music and touring 
with someone he’s never met, which gets a 
typically laconic response. “I don’t know if 
there’s any preparation to be done, except to be 
organized myself,” he notes, adding that what 
he’s heard about Berner’s relatively 
confrontational on-stage style means the issue 
of keeping audiences entertained is unlikely to 
be raised. “That’ll probably help us. He’ll get the 
audience’s attention more than Steve or I 
might.” Which is true enough; both guitarists 
depend more on tasteful and imaginative music 
than showmanship. But the union of all three 
players promises nothing less than an evening 
full of delightful surprises. 


It might have been called Astral Travel, because 
that’s where it takes you. This man is top 5, 
acoustic slide, on the planet. As a slide 
composer, he’s in a class by himself. And 
though he’s played in some illustrious concert 
halls, festivals, and TV shows globally, his gifts 
are not yet widely known. Not widely enough for 
this reviewer, at any rate. 

The concept of Atlas Travel is to take faraway 
unknown places on world maps, and imagine the 
music that might go on in such a place. Sounds 
like Don Rooke to me. The genius of the 
Hawaiian kona (a koa wood instrument from the 
20s) and Weissenborn guitars (and lap steel) 
and the mastermind behind the Canadian 
wonder band The Henrys (see our review of 
their most recent release) pushes the sonic and 
harmonic envelopes in a very acoustic fashion, 
with a few new cohorts in the mix. If we 
introduce the players, it will give you an idea 
what this record is about. 

Johan Hedin is a Swedish virtuoso who plays 
the nyckelharpa, described in the liner notes as 
a keyed Swedish violin first made in the 14th 
century, having melody and drone strings and 
played with a short bow. Ron Allen plays two 
transverse flutes, the bawu from China and the 
bansuri from India. He also contributes on an 
Armenian reed instrument of olive wood called 
the duduk. Jørn Anderson plays an adapted 
drum kit, percussion, and bass kalimba (must 
get one of those). I believe that George 
Meanwell on cello (must get a name like that) 
and George Koller on acoustic and electric 
upright bass are new to the fold. Fellow 
Canadian luminaries Zubot and Dawson pop up 
on a few tracks, Jesse Zubot on mandolin and 
fiddle, and Steve Dawson on ukulele. More 
familiar Rooke partners are Rob Piltch on nylon 
string and electric and sustainiac guitars, 
Michael White on trumpet, and John Sheard on 
pump organ (the kind with the mouse-proof 
pedal, which is, thankfully, pictured in the 
booklet–can’t have the mice chewing on the 
bellows, can we) and piano, and Hugh Marsh on 
borrowed violin. 

So, casting the players gives you a certain idea 
what you’re in for here. But you must add to that 
list winged angelic creatures outside the studio 
windows. There is a humbling magic to these 
fourteen tracks that truly mystifies. 
• Frank Goodman, PURE MUSIC (Nashville)


Don Rooke is the guitar player for a Toronto 
band called The Henrys. Atlas Travel is his first 
solo album, and it provides an easy transition 
from the world of Harry Manx. Rooke plays a 
Style 3 Kona guitar, an acoustic slide guitar 
made of Hawaiian koa wood originally 
manufactured by California luthier Herman 
Weissenborn in the 1920s. It’s played on the lap 
and fretted by a steel bar. And, like Manx, 
Rooke creates music from other places.

He insists (in the liner notes) that “this is not a 
world music record. Think of a person sitting at 
home in the evening studying a book of maps. If 
he tries to imagine music to suit whatever 
obscure place he discovers, chances are the 
sounds he hears in his head will not replicate 
anything authentic. (At least they wouldn’t in my 
head.) This is the basic idea for these songs — 
to suggest a faraway place without knowing 
anything about it.” Hence the name Atlas Travel.

Each song is titled after a place Rooke 
discovered in his atlas. “Nueva Laredo,” “Palma 
de Mallorca,” “Alexandria,” “Donegal Bay,” and 
so on. And each song seeks to take the listener 
on a journey. In imagination. It’s a challenging 
concept. Does it work? It did for me.

I didn’t check the titles until I was more familiar 
with the music, so I was able to travel to 
different places than Rooke intended. I listened 
to this CD as one long piece, broken into 
movements. Movements of Rooke’s finger on 
the maps in his atlas; movements of Rooke’s 
musical imagination as he contemplated the 
places he had discovered; movements of my 
own mind as I imposed my own experiences 
and imagination as I listened.

Like Manx’s music, this is quiet and 
contemplative stuff. Rooke surrounds himself 
with sympathetic players, like Hugh Marsh who 
adds violin to “Donegal Bay.” There was no 
mistaking the “Irishness” of this one. Johan 
Hedin plays the nyckelharpa on several tracks. 
The nyckelharpa is a Swedish keyed violin which 
has both melody and drone strings, and is 
played with a short bow. It adds a unique 
complement to Rooke’s kona guitar, and seems 
to fit in very different countries than Sweden. 
Look for it in “Palma de Mallorca,” “Little Alpold, 
Hungary,” “Most, Czech Republic,” and “62N 
103E Siberia.” But others join in too: George 
Koller on string bass, Jorn Andersen on 
percussion, Michael White on trumpet and 
more. But like the Manx CD, the guitar sounds of 
Don Rooke are the featured instrument.

Rooke is a precise and evocative player — his 
steel finds the note. His arrangements are open 
and airy. This is music to think by, to hold an 
atlas open on your lap and dream by. 

Greenman Review, David Kidney


Junior Bonner, Buscadero

Don Rooke è il leader degli Henrys. Questa è la 
sua prima prova come solista, un viaggio 
immaginario nel mondo con canzoni che 
traggono ispirazione dai paesi visitati. Rooke si 
inventa un disco splendido, dai toni morbidi ed 
introspettivi che ha poco a che vedere con la 
sua band. Lascia completamente da parte la 
sperimentazione per addentrasi in un campo 
caro ad uno come Fahey : Lo stile è diverso, ma 
il viaggiatore ha le idee chiare e la sua musica è 
affascinante e coinvolgente. 


By Paolo Carù , Buscadero, Milan, Italy. 
Translation by Natale Arculeo

A record of purity. 

Don Rooke, atypical guitar player, true artist, is 
the leader of Henrys, a band often described on 
this magazine. 

A mostly instrumental ensemble, sometimes 
using the voice of MMOH as an instrument, they 
gave us strange records, merging in a peculiar 
way the distant worlds of melody and 
improvisation, pure experimentation and 

Don Rooke, the guitar player, suspended 
between Ry Cooder like research and Bill 
Frisell’s desire to be always different, is the 
mind of the project. 

This time, after a few records with the band, 
Rooke decided to make a solo album. A world 
music record, but backwards. 

Recorded in Rooke’s home studio in the 
basement, Atlas Travel is the travel diary of a 
true musician, of a very talented man at the 
quest of the pure essence of sound, as if, as a 
new John Fahey (there are some similarities 
with the great American guitar player), he 
decided to mould in his music sounds and 
colours from far away countries. 

But Rooke’s work is more than that, because his 
imagination and creativity work at full steam to 
create something real from an imaginary 
situation. Don imagines the sounds of far away 
places, adapts them to his compositions and 
doesn’t follow the path of other people: he is 
never been in the places he imagines, and he 
uses the instruments according to his own logic, 
for instance adapting a chinese flute to a song 
located in Paraguay. 

He follows his own path, as ever, but this time 
dispenses with improvisation and experiments a 
la Henrys and goes for melody, colour, 
athmosphere and the purity of his heart. Atlas 
Travel is an ethereal record, a distillation of 
sound, and the guitar of the leader is 
surrounded by a sparse instrumentation 
including violins, ukulele, pump organ, piano, 
guitars, drum, bass, trumpet, cello, nickelarpa (a 
sort of ancient Swedish violin). Understandably a 
record drawing its sounds from the pure fountain 
of Rooke’s mind and a collection of folk inspired 
songs living through perfect performances and 

More than 50 minutes with titles like Nuevo 
Laredo, desertic and lonesome, Palma de 
Mallorca, deep and evocative, Alexandria, 
carried on by organ and drums, Donegal Bay, 
sad and touching, Villa Huidobro, with a latin 
theme; then we go to Hongary, Czec Republic, 
Guadalupe, Siberia, France, Paraguay, until we 
arrive to the windy island, Mahaina, pouring its 
sounds on the green surface of the sea. 

Listen to it in respectful silence, eyes shut, trying 
to imagine the landscapes created by Don 
Rooke with the magic of his sound. 

Ton Maas, Ode Magazine, The Netherlands

“The places Rooke conceives are remarkably 
rural and pastoral. The music is sparing and 
quiet. Those prepared to go adventuring from 
the comfort of their own armchair may take the 
musical journey of their lives. This is music that 
conjures up unsuspected vistas and resonates 
in the furthest corners of your own interior.”


Brent Hagerman, Exclaim

Don Rooke took a journey into an atlas inside 
his mind, conjured up faraway places he openly 
admits he knows very little about and 
constructed a worldly album from the confines 
of his basement. The main songwriter for the 
Henrys, Rooke has jammed out an instrumental 
cartography projecting his musical prowess at 
various points on the compass (“Donegal Bay,” 
“Alexandria,” “Filadelfia, Paraguay”) but hasn’t 
bothered to shade any of the territories visited 
with traditional world music colours. Instead he 
has ceded each state and made it his own in this 
stringed acoustic feast. Rooke not only 
assembled a kaleidoscopic cast of musicians 
and instruments (ukulele by Steve Dawson; 
nyckelharpa by Johan Hedin; violins by Hugh 
Marsh and Jesse Zubot; Dudek, bawu and 
bansuri by Rob Piltch; and John Sheard on 
pump organ) he has instructed us on their 
unique characteristics in the liner notes. Fans of 
Zubot and Dawson, Nordic folk music and 
armchair travel will delight in Atlas Travel for its 
love of acoustic textures, melodies and far off 
places. Perhaps if you buy enough copies you’ll 
even score some air miles.



Dec. 4, 2003. 01:00 AM
Don Rooke shuffles up the musical atlas
Album mixes, matches various world sounds
A departure from The Henrys’ usual aproach


“I liked the idea of someone imagining the world 
from his basement,” says eccentric Toronto 
guitarist Don Rooke of the 14 exotic and 
evocative instrumental pieces that make up 
Atlas Travel, his first solo album. In content and 
form, the folk-based “songs” suggest uncharted 
landscapes and off-the-map nooks and crannies 
in Ireland, Spain, Egypt, Hungary, France, the 
Czech Republic, Siberia, England, Latin 
America, Mexico, and remote Pacific islands, 
places familiar only to the curious composer, the 
lonely basement traveller. 

Working with his kona – a distinctive and rare 
hollow-bodied, hollow-necked slide guitar made 
from Hawaiian koa wood in the 1920s, a distant 
relative of the Dobro and National resonator 
slide guitars that are ubiquitous in country and 
roots music – and with the instrument’s peculiar 
ability to sustain and blend overtones and 
harmonics into eerie, modally complex chord 
structures, Rooke has crafted an astonishingly 
rich, textured impression of places he has yet to 
see, yet which he has assimilated into a musical 
atlas of his own design. 

“I know nothing of these places,” continues 
Rooke, who fronts the rarely seen popular cult 
band The Henrys, writes most of the 
ensemble’s material, and is considered by the 
world’s music press to be a truly innovative 
master of his chosen instrument. “The premise 
of Atlas Travel is a pure conceit, but the effect is 
appealing to me. It’s like a dream, an aftertaste, 
not a literal musical journey at all. The additional 
instruments are mixed up geographically – a 
Chinese flute, for instance, is featured in a piece 
set in Paraguay – and nothing is culturally distinct 
or necessarily appropriate to the location. I’m 
not attempting world music here.” 

What Rooke is doing on Atlas Travel – with the 
help on this recording of mandolin player and 
violinist Jess Zubot, Steve Dawson on ukulele, 
Hugh Marsh on violin, John Sheard on pump 
organ and piano, guitarist Rob Piltch, drummer 
Jorn Andersen, bassist George Koller, Michael 
White on trumpet and modcan (a modular 
synthesizer), cellist George Meanwell, Johan 
Hedin on nyckelharpa (an ancient Swedish 
keyed violin with melody and drone strings), and 
Ron Allen on primitive flutes from China, India 
and Armenia – is continuing his journey toward 
the realization of a culturally indistinct but 
inclusive fusion of universal folk forms, sounds 
and musical structures. 

“It’s the same trip as The Henrys are on, but 
these pieces weren’t conceived with structured 
changes; they were meant to be improvised 
solo pieces that could grow organically from 
fragments of melodies … that’s why it has my 
name on it. It’s not The Henrys, but it’s definitely 
Henrys-ish.” Three of The Henrys – Marsh, 
White and Andersen – will join Piltch, Allen and 
bassist Maury Lafoy and Rooke Sunday night at 
The Music Gallery in concert to launch Atlas 

The CD was recorded – with microphones only, 
and no direct inputs – in Rooke’s basement 
studio in Toronto and is released on Dawson’s 
Vancouver-based Black Hen Music label. “It’s 
not the kind of music you can play in a bar,” 
Rooke says. “It needs space, lots of air, a place 
where the all the acoustic tones, resonant notes, 
harmonics and drones will carry, because that’s 
what the music is built on. 

“It’s not easy music to play, but the right space 
brings out something in it that wouldn’t be 
otherwise revealed.” Rooke turned away from 
conventional guitar after stints with The Cuban 
Fence Climbers and Mary Margaret O’Hara’s 
band in the 1980s and ’90s, and after he 
discovered the unimagined possibilities of 
luthier Hermann Weissenborn’s peculiar 

“I’ve never had any formal training in music, but 
with the kona I was able to find my own voice,” 
he says. “I concentrated on developing that and, 
in the process, The Henrys came into being.” 
With four CDs – the latest, Joyous Porous, was 
released a year ago and has won unanimous 
international critical approval – to their credit, and 
several key festival performances in Europe, 
Australia and the U.S., The Henrys remain an 
enigma, even in their hometown, appearing only 
under optimal concert circumstances, or when a 
new recording is released. 

“I guess you could call it a strategy,” says 
Rooke, whose spare time is mostly consumed 
by the needs of his sons, aged 3 and 9. “I’d like 
to work more often, to be able to support 
myself. “But you can’t compromise this music. It 
doesn’t work any other way.” 


by Matt Galloway

DON ROOKE at the Music Gallery (197 John), 
Sunday (December 7), $16-$18. 416-204-1080. 

There’s a kind of armchair exoticism to Don 
Rooke’s sublime new CD. Atlas Travel is the 
first solo set by the slide guitarist of Toronto 
abstract twang ensemble the Henrys. It could 
loosely be called a world music record, but in 
typical Rooke fashion, he’s come at it from an 
unusual angle. Rather than focusing on 
authenticity and simply playing music from 
around the world, Rooke sat in his basement 
studio, thumbed through an atlas and imagined 
what the music in places with names like Villa 
Huidobro, Filadelfia, Paraguay and Shimoda 
would sound like. 

“This was initially conceived as a kind of fake 
world music record, where someone would 
actually be looking at a map and imagining the 
sound,” Rooke confirms. “I like the image of 
someone sitting in their basement looking at the 
world. I initially had used country names, but that 
sounded too vague to me, so I ended up 
actually getting out a map and hunting down 
places that sounded interesting to me. “They’re 
pretty loose interpretations. Villa Huidobro is a 
town in Argentina, and there’s a bit of a tango 
feel to that piece. Shimoda to me sounds kind 
of Japanese, but more in the space and 
simplicity of it, not really the music. And there’s a 
tune set in Guadeloupe that has steel drums on 
it. Other times, the music has no relevance to 
the geography. Ron Allen plays Chinese flute on 
a tune set in Paraguay, for instance.” 

At the risk of encouraging the letter-writing wrath 
of Paraguayans upset that their national sound 
has been wrung inside out, let me say that Atlas 
Travel is anything but authentic. The clanking 
steel drums on Basse-Terre, Guadeloupe and 
Alexandria’s wheezing pump organ occupy a 
geographic space all their own. “There’s 
obviously so much great, authentic world music 
out there,” Rooke laughs. “This isn’t that at all. I 
saved myself a few centuries’ worth of research 
by faking it. I was going for textures, not 

Admittedly, global inspiration aside, Atlas 
Travel’s sound doesn’t differ wildly from the 
Henrys’ own woozy music. In part, that’s down to 
instruments, particularly the distinctive tone of 
Rooke’s Kona slide guitar. If anything, the 
instrumental disc is more elliptical, filled with 
pauses, echoes and long periods of silence. “I 
wanted to give these tunes such a spare 
treatment that it wouldn’t really be fair to call it a 
Henrys record. There would be a lot of standing 
around. There are a lot of duos and trios, so I 
think it made sense to think of it as a focus on 
my instrument and a chance to try it out in 
different contexts.” 

It also gave Rooke the opportunity to reach out 
beyond the Henrys’ open-ended lineup and work 
with players he’s known for years as well as 
people he’s never even met. “Johan Hedin is a 
Swedish nyckelharpa player whose music I 
heard over the phone,” Rooke explains. “It 
sounded like a violin with no vibrato, and I was 
just blown away. I arranged through a friend to 
have him play on some tunes, never having met 
him. I still haven’t. I guess that reinforces the 
idea of travelling the world from your basement 
even more.” 


Finally, the damning with very faint-praise award 
goes to one David Ingram w. Alberta’s Penguin 
Eggs magazine. The following has been 

“….There are some promising ideas here….A 
dozen musicians play well enough….hither and 
thither… inoffensive, backgroundy 
experience…. hardly evocative or stimulating…a 
bit noodley…”