When Phil Henry recorded the surprising No Place Like Here in 2005, he pulled the cord on twelve fine originals and placed his name on the list of musicians to watch. With the release of this year's [Folk 2.0], he seems to say "watch this" as he and his superb band work their way through five folk songs steeped in tradition. The thing is, he tosses tradition aside and records them as he sees fit; thus the CD subtitle, An untraditional look at traditional folk music.
Incredibly upbeat, the band folds dawg jazz into the folk of Shady Grove and makes it a whole new though recognizable song. Henry's vocals are spot on and the band's beat gives Will Patton excellent bedrock on which to lay his mandolin riffs. Indeed, the musicianship all-around carries this way beyond the original folk, the players feeding off of one another until they hit a higher level. Think Hot Rize or Nickel Creek when the bluegrass bug bites.
Henry takes the staid Blow the Candles Out into the realm of '70s R&B and gives saxman Wayne Davison a chance to market his wares. Solid pop/jazz flows from his horn, reminiscent of the horn work popularized in the seventies in various fusion bands. Again, the band drives the beat home.
The a cappella Kilkelly, Ireland is a stunner, the letters of an Irish mother to her son put to music. Henry steps back and works his voice seamlessly into the chorus which sounds as Irish as Americans can make it without going over the top.
Giving Barbara Allen a bit of syncopated beat and rocking it up may not sound good in the head, but, surprisingly, it works. Henry has the voice to carry the vocals, the band has the chops and the break, with it's amped electric guitar and reverb on the voice, is A-1.
Purists will cringe when they hear Henry's arrangement of Man of Constant Sorrow. The thing about purists, though, is that they have no sense of adventure. Henry gets very adventurous here, taking another staid traditional song through the mill. This could have fit anywhere on "No Place Like Here", pop sax and upbeat rhythm flowing smoothly.
This EP is a huge step forward for Henry in terms of credibility. His arrangements are masterful and he has taken an idea which could have gone horribly wrong to the right places. The production and musicianship could not have been better and these boys, they can sing, among so many other things.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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