Bluegrass & more w/ archetypal understanding & unpretentious individualism
Playing Time – 59:37 -- The Henry Family has a knack for capturing the soul and emotional depth of Bill Monroe’s bluegrass music. It’s not just because patriarch and mandolinist Red Henry taps Monroe’s repertoire for tunes like Toy Heart, Chisholm Canal, Lockwood and Rawhide, but he also presents his own originals like “Helton Creek” and old-time tunes like “Squirrel Hunters” without sounding anachronistic. The raw beauty of Red’s bluegrass is that he’s equally comfortable relating the Stanley Brothers’ ballad, “Flood of ’57,” as he is energetically displaying his solid chops on his own Monroesque “Shawnee Land.” While the former has the pathos of a memorable event in history, human lives were spared by God’s will. In his affable style, Red imparts a humanitarian message that could be applied to any similar tragedy experienced today: “the brave and the strong were there by the score / to help the sick and needy to safety on the shore.” For most of this album, there are raw energy and enthusiasm on tunes like “Birdie” and “Bitter Creek” that put spirit in your feet with cheerful old-timey and bluegrass abandon. Chris Henry (guitar, vox), Casey Henry (bass), and Red’s uncle John Hedgecoth (banjo, vox) are the primary band, but we also hear Murphy Henry, Mark Wingate, Sally Wingate.
Besides Monroe and the Stanleys, Red’s liner notes drop other significant names for his inspiration. Donald “Chubby” Anthony had played fiddle with the Stanleys before fronting his own group, Big Timber Bluegrass. He passed away in 1980. Red also credits John Hartford, Frank Wakefield, Linda Williams, Emmett King, and others for inspiration. While Red mainly plays his mandolins constructed by Randy Wood, he also lays in other instruments like fiddle or viola on a couple pieces. His mandola or mandocello convey different moods to “High on a Mountain” and “Remember You Love in my Dreams” and “Divers and Lazarus.” Sung to the well-known and more recent melody of “Star of County Down,” the latter song is a cautionary tale’s whose melody actually dates back to an ancient tune called Child Ballad #056. “Rise up, rise up, brother divers, and come along with me / For there's a place prepared in hell, from which thou canst not flee.” Another version of the song refers to that place in hell “to sit upon a serpent's knee” as it reinforces the parable’s compassionate and caring message about the need of the wealthy (“Dives”) to be benevolent and kind to avoid future punishment, agony and torment.
At age 18, Red started playing mandolin about 1967. From 1975-86, Red and Murphy & Co. performed full time throughout the Southeast and held down regular gigs at places like Gainesville, Florida’s Beef and Bottle. The band released ten indie recordings between 1977-1995. A bonus cut on the “Helton Creek” album draws one of Murphy’s originals (Miss Nora’s Blues) from a 1981 recording with Tuck Tucker, Mike Johnson, and Neal Thompson. In 1982, Red and Murphy founded the Murphy Method, a family business of bluegrass music lessons taught by ear on tape. In 1986 the business became a full-time occupation with its extensive catalog of tapes and DVDs. Red’s first mandolin album, “Bluegrass Mandolin and Other Trouble,” was released about 2000. Red and son Chris also put out “Bluegrass and Folk Music and Other Light Entertainment” with many fine bluegrass tunes rarely heard today. For the past few years, they have been performing as a duo at folk festivals. Red’s humorous storytelling skills are demonstrated with “Clermont’s Visit to Georgia.” The “Helton Creek” album is another fine project that manages to capture Red’s soulfulness, creativity and intensity. His interpretation of bluegrass has archetypal understanding and authenticity. It also displays considerable unpretentious individualism and steadfast devotion to the music. (Joe Ross, staff writer, Bluegrass Now rossjoe [at] hotmail dot com)