I’m not much for end-of-the-year statements. The process seems to imply that good music has an expiry date. The best music, however, remains timeless and as I think back to another year of aural adventure, one album repeatedly comes to mind as an outstanding release – for a number of reasons. I knew it was special when I first laid ears on it. I warmed instantly to its back porch feel and its unapologetic sense of overt friendliness. It’s purely Canadian and seems to incorporate all those things that work together to define that hard-to-define sound we like to think of as our own.
It’s nothing too crisp or squeaky clean, but something is clearly rising up from so deep down within that it forces itself onto your personal playlist. It’s something that stands out for how different it seems to be from everything else. I’m also drawn to this quiet little release because, like all the best underdogs, you’ll not likely have heard of it unless you tripped over it. I hope this review helps you to trip over it – because it’s well worth the fall.
Jim Henman is a name not everyone will know – or remember. Originally a founding member of April Wine back in 1969, in an era that would soon spawn memorable hits like “Fast Train” and “You Could’ve Been A Lady”. Henman bailed in the early 70’s. Not sure why – likely for the typical reasons and just as surely none of our business. Co-founding the band that Q107 in Toronto would soon make the cornerstone of its Can-con content, April Wine was a family affair, including cousins Ritchie and David Henman together with childhood friend Myles Goodwyn – all originally hailing from Bluenose country before shuffling over to Montreal and beyond. Henman stands behind his decision of some forty years ago, feeling all the better for having made it. He’s content with his life and it’s this contentment that comes across in spades across each of Same Old Feeling’s nine selections.
Lasting no more than about a cup-and-a-half of coffee, seven of these tracks are sturdy originals (including co-writes with friend and co-producer Mike Trask) along with two inventive covers. Yet it takes no longer than his reworking of the Larry Williams ‘58 hit, “Slow Down”, to take you somewhere that can only be called ‘home’. Sounding nothing like the original or the Beatles’ remake, Henson is joined by local heroes Carter Chaplin (guitar), Charlie Phillips (bass), AJ Jardine (drums), John Appleby (mandolin) and John Noseworthy (backup vocals), transforming this previously raucous old rock’n’roller into a well-mellowed, hammock-swinging special. Its bullfrog-like chorus, swampy guitar lines, mandolin and Dixieland clarinet(Mark Cuming) lend it a lazy, N’awlins feel. From here, Henman & Co. continue to set a laidback mood that fits the Canadian psyche like a favourite team sweater or an old pair of slippers. Nothing pretty, but pretty cosy and all the better for its wear and tear. I get the same feeling from another Canadian-based institution – The Band. A grouping together of friends in a loose jam session, extremely soulful in a non-pressured, down-home kinda way. More roots than rock. But, unlike The Band, Henman’s collective has created something much more upbeat than it is mournful.
“You Can Have My Heart” is a Henman/Trask creation that originated as an instrumental track until the title helped the song to write itself. Songs don’t come by any more happy or upbeat than this as acoustic guitar and mandolin maintain a comfortable, toe-tapping pace. The title track, “Same Old Feeling”, is the record’s showcase piece, celebrating the great sense of home that lifts off the page. The idea was born in ’72 for inclusion in a Henman/Goodwyn production that never came about. It didn’t re-materialize as a song until Henman and Trask colluded on it to bring it to its present, glorious state. This is a happy-go-lucky song you want to own, rather than simply whistle along to – the pièce de résistance of the album. Henman’s own “Could Be Heaven” reveals him as a closet rock’n’roller (well…who isn’t?) as the lively paean to a groupie and a neighbourhood nutbar adds provides timely contrast to the laid-back nature of the record. This is good radio fare for a top-down, summer drive in your Dad’s convertible. Likewise, Henman’s “That’s The Way It Goes” takes harp, acoustic bass, mandolin and acoustic guitar to flesh out this meaty life lesson in the form of a hangover special. Mellow with attitude, Henman’s voice (and whistle) is in peak form as Phil Potvin’s harmonica and John Appleby’s mandolin earn able assists.
“That’s All I Got” is highly autobiographical, nicely summing up Henman’s decision to forsake the limelight for a better life at home. If ‘inner peace’ was in a certain key, this is it. It’s a fun track, recalling John Hartford (Henman’s laid-back vocals and approach are similar) and yesterday’s pop radio. The added muscle of Garrett Mason’s guitar doesn’t hurt. A big fan of Gus Cannon, Henman’s musical contribution has – likewise – been the melding of blues to folk, so this cover is hardly out of place. Chuck Bucket’s brushed drums, Rheo Rochon’s warm, stand-up bass and the dual acoustic guitars of Henman and Charlie Phillips help transform “Walk Right In” into the official kitchen party song for the Maritimes that it could be. It certainly sits nicely here, given Henman’s studied, simpatico vocal.
Another case in point reinforcing Henman’s blues pedigree is further realized with “I Don’t Have No Blues”. In perfect voice and reinforced by Potvin’s harp and Rochon’s acoustic bass, this track shines brightly as an upbeat parlour piece. Another album highlight, Henman reveals his understated skills with some beautifully accomplished acoustic guitar work on a piece that could easily become a completely new direction. The record closes with one final blues treatment – served up, initially, as a cloudy, vintage-sounding recording. Complete with scratches, “Shame Shame Boogie” breaks into present-day, with the upgraded sound we’ve learned to favour. An interesting, if not symbolic, way to close an album that takes something grounded in the past and renders it – proudly – present-day.
It’s taken Henman too long to get this album together and release it. Here’s hoping people will recognize its genius and add their voices together to coax more music like this from him. The process may well have been therapeutic for Henman, but the quality of this release will soon prove to be essential listening for the rest of us – and that’s a dependency worth having.
Track down a copy and head out to the porch for a listen (winter coat and all).