Son Henry – [Album]

Son Henry – [Album]

Tuesday, 19 March 2024

Son Henry & T. Rogers Band
(Twang House Records)

In 2009, American blues musician and lap steel virtuoso Son Henry arrived at a music festival in Estonia with only his lap steel. The rest of his equipment was stuck at Heathrow Airport, where it remained for six months. He was rescued by T. Rogers band, “a group of mad Hungarians,” as he put it. They loaned him equipment and gave him stage time. A lifelong connection was established.

Ten years later, T. Rogers band secured a grant from the Hungarian government for international collaboration in music. Son Henry flew to Hungary in the fall of 2023, where he recorded Grace with the band, comprised of Ferci Kovács on guitar, Zsolt Szatai on bass, Béla Baráth on drums, Krisztián Magi on organ and Stew Hay on harmonica.

Grace is a tour of blues forms. Son Henry says, “I showed up with thirty songs,” covering the variety of American blues, folk, and country. He adds, “T. Rogers were steeped in Chicago blues, but I kicked them right out of their comfort zone.”

The album starts on a somber, reflective note, with the title track and “Josie,” two country tunes with slight tinges of gospel. They are both about regrets and missed opportunities. “Grace” concerns the stresses of caregiving, how we feel we could have done more for those we love. “Josie” describes watching a couple part at a bus station. Son Henry feels these regrets, about “things we could have been more clear about,” are nearly universal experiences. “Those two songs ring really clear and meaningful for me. … Let’s deal with the hard stuff first.”

Things pick up quickly after that, with “Ribbon of Tar,” a hard-rocking road song. Son Henry and T. Rogers Band performed this one regularly over the years, and it shows in the propulsive tempo.

“Waiting on a Sign” returns to the wistful romanticism of “Josie,” a lover waiting to the other person to say the right thing. The soulful instrumentation, reminiscent of acoustic Stones at their best, perfectly captures the emotions of the lyrics.

Poverty and unemployment fuel the old school R&B of “Painted Windows,” propelled by some Chicago style blues harp. The song is based on Son Henry’s experiences in Aberdeen, Scotland, during the 2014 oil crash. He explains that when stores went out of business, they traditionally painted over their windows with whitewash. “When my end comes I’ll know/ If it’s hell I’m gonna know/ I’ll recognize it by the painted windows.”

“Looking at Trouble” picks up the pace again, a classic barroom romp about picking up a strange woman in a bar. He claims the song is about meeting his wife, but the lyrics lead the listener to believe the night did not have such a happy ending. It ends with, “Hey, where are you going?” Either way, the song is pure fun.

We return to poverty in “Down Hard,” which describes the real bottom of economic desperation. Son Henry spent some time homeless himself, living in a Chevy Camaro (“No room to stretch out”). He recalls the ridicule and shame one experiences then. “People aren’t kind,” he comments. His lap steel accents ground the tale in the reality of the street.

“One too many cars in your driveway” tells Son Henry that his latest love affair is over in “It Ain’t You.” The backing is funky R&B with a touch of calypso. Son Henry recalls having to teach the Hungarians these forms, which were new to them. It’s clear they learned the lesson; this song grooves along infectiously.

“Shame Shame Shame,” a hard-rocking blues stomper about a cheating woman, will keep the crowd dancing.

“Three Words,” a slow blues which brings to mind Clapton or B.B. King, brings us more or less back where we started, waiting for someone to say the right thing, afraid that they won’t. The guitar weeps in clean lines throughout the song.

“Better Man” concludes the album with some get-down funk, complete with dirty guitar solo. It’s fitting ending, reflecting back on the hard times, regrets, and disappointments that run through the album, promising to do better next time.

In the end, the album demonstrates how blues, once an exclusively American music form, has become truly international. The album is, in Son Henry’s words, “an interesting polyglot of styles” based in a shared musical language. The American and the Hungarians find common ground, and then settle into it like an old sofa. Take a seat yourself, and get comfortable.

“Grace,” the first single from the song, will be premiered on Friday, March 15, on all streaming platforms. The full album is scheduled for a June release. [G. Murray Thomas]


Son Henry and T. Rogers Band – “Grace” – [Youtube]

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