Mr. Henry - Ghosts & Compromise
Record Label: Mighty Hudson Music
Release Date: March 20, 2013
More than a decade ago, a New York City quintet named Mr. Henry released two critically acclaimed albums that made few if any ripples. While the band toured the country and opened for some rather famous names, they were never able to firmly break through. Frustrated by a life on the road and finding little success, singer-songwriter and Mr. Henry founder Dave Slomin hung it up and gave the touring life a rest. For all intents and purposes, Mr. Henry was dead. But sure enough, the itch to record music stayed with him and last month, Slomin along with new bandmates Michael Chun (bass) and Dave Ashdown (drums, guitar, bass) released a new album Ghosts & Compromise under the moniker Waiting for Henry.
Though it's not nearly as rewarding or compelling as Mr. Henry's Jackhammer and 40 Watt Fade, Ghosts & Compromise does have some great moments. Foremost of those is album opener "Buy American," a jangly slice of patriotism that is crisp, anthemic and nothing short of perfect. Like a distant cousin of Son Volt and Whiskeytown, "Buy American," is a gently rising dollop of wistful alt. country that any onetime No Depression subscriber would find kinship with. Rattling guitars open "Here Comes the Rain," which barrels through the speakers like an 18-wheeler on a freeway. Vocalist and band founder Dave Slomin has admitted that "Here Comes the Rain" is a song 20 years in the making and that sense of rust is apparent. Though it has a defined sense of swagger and bluster, there's not much in the way of impact or melody. Newcomer Ashdown makes his first statement on "Sicka," a song which borrows verses from The Hold Steady playbook and features a bursting chorus that might make the Gin Blossoms blush. Ghosts & Compromise's next big moment comes in the form of "Incomplete Me," a lingering paean to regret that opens with meandering guitar and some of Slomin's best vocals to date. Crisp, clean and fully emotive, "Incomplete Me," is as effective a song as one could hope for and easily one of the disc's best.
Slomin has never been shy of naming songs after upstate New York towns ("Herkimer," "Marathon") and "Cayuga Why" continues that trend. Being that the disc opened with the scratch of a record, it's apparent that Waiting for Henry has their hand firmly ensconced in vintage overtones and the inherent simplicity of "Cayuga Why" is proof of that. Calling to mind REM, Big Star and even The Replacements to some degree, "Cayuga Why" is Slomin, Ashdown and bassist Michael Chun at their best.
But then the proverbial wheels start to fall of. Despite its best intentions and inviting guitar work, the plaintive "L.I.E" falls far too short. But this stumble is not one to merely brush past. After all this is the same Dave Slomin that had few if any prior hiccups on any previous release. Whether its the weight of new members Chun and Ashdown or just the expected stumbles of a debut effort, "L.I.E." is far from the band's best foot forward. Ashdown tries to atone for that on "Wish You the Moon" and the song is pleasant and serviceable but in terms of deep impact and indelibility, there's little to grab onto here.
Slomin and Co. attempt to right the ship on "Riverside," a restrained and supple affair that serves as not only a tame respite from the raucous rock energy but also a chance for the trio to reveal their softer side. And it is here in the quiet moments of "Riverside," that Ghosts & Compromise makes one of its strongest statements. After the bar-room throwaway "American Song," the trio leaves it all on the table with the spellbinding "Ghosts & Compromise," a vernal and yearning effort that is equal parts defeated, hopeful and stirring. Slomin has always had a penchant for writing an honest, first-rate American ballad and "Ghosts and Compromise" is that very song. As an added bonus, the disc closes out with the acoustic yarn "Parallel Lanes," an intimate and warm effort that does very little if anything wrong. As that song grinds to a close, the long anticipated wait for new material has finally drawn to a close.
Though it is far from perfect, there's still enough nuggets and enough power at work here to keep Slomin relative in the contemporary market. Though he has gone on record as saying that the touring days are long behind him, one can only hope that given enough demand, Waiting for Henry might hit the road and bring these songs beyond the Northeast. Songs like these are just begging for a wider audience.