From the first notes of track one, I start looking around for Jim because I'm sure he must be right behind me. Somehow, he's burned himself so completely onto this disc that I half expect him to materialize right here in my kitchen, where the music blows through the screens like a warm breeze lifting out of the valley at dusk.
Jim Henry, with co-producer Tracy Grammer, has released this terrific "seven-song six-pack," a clever musical and marketing idea. The clarity and simplicity of the project, from the songwriting to the musicianship to the production reflect Jim's amazing talent and professionalism.
The instrumentation and performance throughout this project is stellar and masterfully recorded. Jim plays the guitar, dobro, and mandolin, while Tracy plays the violin. Equally impressive are the vocals of both Jim and Tracy. Jim has a relaxed and calming voice that reminds me a bit of Lyle Lovett, and Tracy weaves harmonies around Jim in all the right places. Throughout the project, the dobro and violin accentuate the reminiscent quality that many of these songs crave.
After getting these tracks so well recorded, Jim knew what to do. He did the mixing himself and managed to place everything nicely in the mix. Jim's vocals are consistently front and center, gently resting on the bed of acoustic instruments.
The packaging of the CD is a cardboard sleeve with a colorful child's drawing of the "one-horse town." While I would sure love to have the song lyrics and more information than will fit on the cardboard sleeve, Jim has offered a product that has me waiting anxiously for the next one.
The CD starts off with the catchy Deep River Blues, an upbeat folk-blues number that yearns for the hometown river life.
One-Horse Town and Quickdraw Southpaw's Last Hurrah are both midtempo poignant tunes about small town themes. In the former, Jim takes the perspective of the parents who are proudly watching their children explore beyond the rural fencelines. The latter, one of Dave Carter's lingering gifts to the world, harkens to a wild west show and centers around great chorus lyrics, like, "Oh boys look at him ride/on a sawdust prairie and a big top sky/Oh boys it's a natural law/The dream keeps going though the dreamer's stalled." The dobro and violin dance around each other in these numbers bringing a good dose of peaceful melancholy to these stories.
St James Infirmary echoes Summertime. I couldn't quite figure out what this song was about, but I love the line, "(S)even chorus girls went to the graveyard/And only six chorus girls came back." There is an easy rhythm and quiet power that makes this number stand out.
The CD's only instrumental, A Sad Farewell, is aptly named. It showcases the musicianship that provides the background for the other six songs.
I was not immediately drawn to This Lullaby. It sounds like a song that Jim wrote about one of his kids, and I found the lyrics and phrasing a bit awkward at first. The more I listened, though, the more engaging that I found this song to be and began to appreciate how children would surely find this song to be comforting and fun.
Ruby, the last track, is a highlight of this CD. It starts out very strong "When Bob Dole spoke/You're mom went into labor/Her water broke/She was screaming for the savior." The song goes on to tell a story that honors a young girl. This is as close as Jim comes to an infectious pop hook chorus (and it's pretty darn close) but he keeps it in the world of folk music. When Jim and Tracy squeeze every ounce of melody out of Ruby, it'll be OK, I am very likely to let the CD start all over again.
I didn't know much about Jim Henry before encountering this CD. Being a Tracy Grammer fan, though, I knew that whoever she toured and recorded with would be outstanding. I was not disappointed. Now, I'm going to Jim's website to see how far I have to travel to catch a show.
Page design by David N. Pyles