The Henry Girls,
December Moon
(independent, 2013)

The Henry Girls are the McLaughlin sisters of Donegal, Ireland. (Henry was their grandfather's first name.) Karen, Lorna and Joleen make three of them. Though they're young (in their 20s, judging from the cover photograph), this is their fourth album. Since they're new to me, however, I hear them as if they've just shown up out of nowhere.

December Moon elicits, even in its best moments, decidedly mixed feelings. On the positive side, they sing beautifully and theirs are heavenly harmonies of the genetic school. The arrangements are solid, ear-friendly and largely acoustic. Then, again....

It's the material, or much of it, that is not to my taste. The effect that listening calls to mind is akin to what one might associate with an elegantly prepared meal in which everything appeals except the food. Which is to say that this is largely pop music even if it is played on instruments usually associated with folk music. Pop is something that, for various reasons, I long ago lost connection with. One reason is that it's mostly -- not entirely, of course -- boring. Another is that, given how many hours are taken up by the music I like and write about, I literally don't have time for it. On the rare instance I am exposed to something of its current incarnation, I am usually afforded no reason to deduce that I am missing anything of consequence.

Another thing: there is no shortage of pop music, not by the longest shot the brain can measure. If you aren't signed to a major label and aren't trying to market a huge hit, why bother with it? If you're with an indie label or are producing your own self-manufactured records (as here), why not do something that is more personal and meaningful, as opposed to generic and bland?

Well, not everything here is such. "Cold Rain & Snow," done in a modern arrangement, is a turn-of-the-last-century North Carolina murder ballad vividly re-imagined. Any Rambles.NET reader will be favorably impressed. "Ol' Cook Pot," perhaps less interesting but hardly fatally so, amounts to Appalachia as represented by the Andrews Sisters. The latter may or may not be an original composition. Maddeningly, the credits don't list writers. I do recognize "Watching the Detectives" as the Elvis Costello song. The Henry Girls' arrangement makes it sound as if it has escaped from a cartoon soundtrack, which may have been their intention for all I know.

It should go without saying that the Henrys can do whatever music they desire. I must also remark, though, that I don't understand why they bother with the likes of "When Will I See You Again" and "Stop Saying Forever," as nonessential and insubstantial as their titles suggest. What I learn from December Moon is that the Henry Girls have an abundance of talent. They just don't know what to do with it.

music review by
Jerome Clark

28 December 2013

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