Helen Henderson hails from Southland, New Zealand. Helen started her musical career in London, and is now based in Los Angeles. Her first CD, "The Sonora Sessions " was recorded in Los Angeles, and had excellent reviews. "Henderson matches her powerful backing with confident originals and a convincing mid American voice ..... but it's the folk demons of her Southland childhood that she returns to in "The Ballad of Minnie Dean." Nick Bollinger, The Listener. "She carries these songs on the strength of her songwriting which is right out of the Southern traditions.... a highly convincing introduction to someone we could happily hear more from." Graham Reid, The Herald.
Her latest CD "Twisting Wind" was recorded at F.A.M.E.Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, fondly referred to as "the cradle of rock and roll." Powerful and raw, this CD captures a moment in time, and some tantalizing soul from a "Kiwi Siren." The CD rocks. Helens soulful voice and haunting songs lure you to the rocks, tempt you with the promise of dry land, and leave you wanting more.
Produced by Helen Henderson, "Twisting Wind," features stunning new material, played by some of the worlds finest international musicians.
Doug Pettibone: Guitar, Pedal steel, ( Lucinda Williams, Jewel, Ray Lamontagne) David Hood: Bass Guitar, (Etta James, Aretha Franklin, John Hiatt, Duane Allman, Rod Stewart) Brian Owings: Drums ( Shelby Lynne,Tony Joe White, Buddy Miller,Ray La Montagne.) Larry Byram: Guitar,Mandolin, Synth, ( Steppenwolf) Spooner Oldham: Keyboards, (Bob Dylan, Neil Young, JJ Cale, Linda Ronstadt, Jewel), Gia Ciambotti: Backing Vocals, (Bruce Springsteen, Joe Walsh). Mixed by Grammy winner: Helik Hadar, (Herbie Hancock). Mastered by Grammy winner: Gavin Lurssen, ( Oh Brother Where Art Thou, Alison Krauss & Robert Plant ,Lucinda Williams) Engineered by: Jimmy Nutt. Matt Downs: Guitar and Synth (LA) Dave Raven: Drums (LA) Dusty Wakeman: Producer/Bass Guitar, (Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakum) produced two tracks at Mad Dog Studios in Los Angeles.
HELEN HENDERSON REVIEWS:
CD Review jambands.com Published: 2009/10/13
by Brian Robbins. Helen Henderson
Ranui RecordsHelen Henderson’s bio may read that her roots are in New Zealand, but on her recently-released album Twisting Wind, she sure sounds like someone with Texas blues in her veins and Delta mud between her toes.
Take a healthy helping of not-quite-as-tortured Lucinda Williams and combine it with some of the sultry swagger of Austin blues belter Lou Ann Barton; stir in some of the smart smoothness of Edie Brickell and you’ll begin to capture Helen Henderson’s sound on Twisting Wind. The rest is all her.
There’s a warmth and folkiness when the moment calls for it that’s just as real as the raw, bluesy stuff – neither ever sounds forced or out of character.
Henderson’s backing band for Twisting Wind reads like an all-star team with players like Muscle Shoaler David Hood (yep: Patterson’s dad) on bass and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Spooner Oldham on keys.
And speaking of Muscle Shoals (tracks were spilt between there and Los Angeles), Charlie Rose and the Muscle Shoals Horn section add just-right moments of that thang they do throughout the album – always powerful, yet tasteful at the same time.Part of the comparison to Lucinda Williams may come from more than just Henderson’s vocal stylings – there’s a common denominator in the guitar department, as well. Along with Matt Downs (who sat in on the LA sessions) and Larry Byram (guitar and mando work in Muscle Shoals), the incomparable Doug Pettibone is all over this thing.
That’s right – the same Mr. Pettibone who left his smoking mark on Lucinda’s Little Honey last year brings his bag of tricks to Twisting Wind, setting the mood with everything from raunchy blues squawnk to dreamy pedal steel as needed.
There’s a lot of ground covered on the album: the title cut kicks things off with the Muscle Shoals horns pushing a raucous Howlin’ Wolf-style riff along – all tube amp stink and smoky vocals by Henderson.
The thing is, the gal sounds just as natural and at home with the Gaelic folk of the next track, “Beltane Flames”.
And that’s the story of Twisting Wind: a cool mix of greasy blues and rock (“Better This Time”, “Stringing Me On”, “Lucky One”), up-tempo and lo-fi twang (“Out Of The Woods”, “Stateless”, “Now Is Forever”) and plain-and-simple sweetness (“Your Other Love”).
With Twisting Wind, Helen Henderson has managed to give us an album that sounds familiar yet totally original at the same time. This is music that deserves to be heard.
CD review: Twisting Wind
By HELEN HENDERSON (Ranui Records)
Reviewed by CHRIS CHILTON - The Southland Times
After the raw promise of her debut EP The Sonora Sessions, the Southland-born, LA-based Helen Henderson was at a career-defining crossroads.
Go low-key again and risk being forever cast in a supporting role or go for broke and aim for the A list of female country rock-blues-folk singer-songwriters.
No hint of fear here. The southern songstress has crafted a collection of intelligent and deeply captivating stories and tunes and, impressively, assembled a stellar cast of session musicians to perform them.
You may not be familiar with names such as Doug Pettibone, David Hood and Spooner Oldham, but you will most assuredly be familiar with the people they've played for: Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Aretha Franklin, Rod Stewart, Duane Allman, Jewel and Lucinda Williams, with whom Henderson has often been positively referenced.
So Twisting Wind sounds great, first and foremost, with the measured power and delicately understated feels that only the world's premier session musos can provide, mixed by Grammy-winner Helik Hadar and mastered by Grammy-winner Gavin Lurssen.
There's more rocky grit in Henderson's songwriting palette this time, although her voice remains a laid-back, sexy drawl, rich in life and bottom-end timbre.
The title track and album opener announces her arrival with a thumping rock-r 'n' b groove and the stab of Memphis horns. She immediately counters with perhaps the album's most affecting track, Beltane Fires, a tender folk ode to the offspring of the Beltane fire fertility rituals from ancient Celtic times. Then track three, Better This Time, is the heaviest track of the album, a sleazy, dirty, grinding rock groove spilling with lyrics about burnt passions and busted love.
You get an education listening to Helen Henderson's lyrics. You also get insights, irony and the benefit of her dark and fertile imagination.
This lyric from Stateless: "Once I thought you were the one/I went to see a gypsy, she said this is what I know/He will never love you and he'll never let you go."
Twisting Wind may not have the obvious hit single that propels Helen Henderson to the stratospheric heights of the superstars she compares so favourably with, but obvious is not a word you'd use to describe her music. Try charm and integrity. They fit better.
INTERVIEWS Helen Henderson:
Expat Southlander Helen Henderson has released a long-time-coming album recorded with ace US musicians from the cradle of rock'n'roll. MICHAEL FALLOW reports.
It took Helen Henderson a long time to make it to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, 40 miles from Elvis' birthplace Tupelo. Muscle Shoals is where Aretha Franklin did her best work, where the Stones got their fingers sticky and where Paul Simon sang of those nice bright colours.
She arrived at the town's FAME studio ready to record with some of the storied rhythm section that Lynyrd Skynyrd honoured in Sweet Home Alabama:
"Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers/And they've been known to pick a song or two/Lord, they get me off so much/They pick me up when I'm feelin' blue."
Henderson had a bunch of weatherbeaten survival songs to record there. Hard-earned songs; pick-me-ups of the weary, defiant type.
She brought with her a friend from her adopted home Los Angeles; guitarist Doug Pettibone, equally capable of the most down'n'dirty rock that's him all over Lucinda Williams' live album or of the sweet balladry of the sort that had Mark Knopfler call him to duty. And now, hell yes, Pettibone was keen to play with those Swampers.
"And they were licking their chops at the prospect of playing with him," Henderson says.
Guys like bassist David Hood, who's played for Aretha, Duane Allman and John Hiatt. Or keyboardist Spooner Oldham, seasoned by his time with Bob Dylan, Neil Young and JJ Cale.
Multi-instrumentalist Larry Byram was in Steppenwolf. Backing singer Gia Ciambotti brought texture to Springsteen and Joe Walsh performances.
Mixing and mastering were a pair of multi-Grammy winners: Helik Hadar (Herbie Hancock) and Gavin Lurssen (the Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack and the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration).
All of which could have been a tiny bit intimidating for Henderson, who stepped up to the role of producer.
But these were her songs, this was her voice, and it turned out everyone was there with the same agenda.
"I've long since found the more talented the people, the more low-key they are. The more humble."
When emphatic decisions were needed she was guided, at times, by Pettibone's eyebrow. Arched this way, he was telling her yes. That way, no.
On her arrival the Swampers marvelled at her accent.
By the time she was leaving they told her they'd never met anybody more southern in their life.
Damned right. Henderson's from Invercargill.
She has a home in Alabama now. And one in Los Angeles, where she mostly lives. And as of this week, one in Invercargill. It's her elderly mum's, and she's just bought it. It's not like she's wealthy; more that some places just reach out to her so hard.
"Three houses," she muses. "I'm not a rock star, but I'm living like one of them."
Lately the connections between the three homes have been weirdly environmental, given the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked her childhood home and this week's electrical storm.
She "swam back like a salmon" from LA, the earthquake capital of the world, and then found herself lying with her daughter in her mother's bed, "holding on to each other for dear life while the earth was rocking and rolling ... "
Then last Wednesday morning's storm evoked memories of Hurricane Katrina passing over her home in Florence, smack between Memphis and Nashville.
"I guess you can't run from anything, really."
It's not like she hasn't tried.
Henderson is the niece of famed Invercargill violinist and conductor Alex Lindsay, and was alert from her childhood to a range of folk/country/Celtic music.
She learned to sing in a choir, and was smitten, just smitten, by Elvis and the Beatles (her grandfather Sid Lindsay took her to an Elvis film when he was 75 and she was 10. So it's all his fault, she smiles. Everything).
She was drawn, particularly, to balladry. Wilful songs.
"I think I was born with my hand in a fist."
She'd fled Invercargill in the 1970s, yearning for the life of a singer-songwriter and looking for something freer than anything southern New Zealand seemed to offer.
Turns out, though, there's a lot to be learned from all that Scottish stoicism and Irish character in the deep south.
"I wanted to run from it, and embrace it at the same time."
Now she finds herself marvelling at her 92-year-old mother Muriel's embodiment of generations of survival skills.
In the winter of 2008 Henderson returned for a spell to stay with her mother in the family home.
"She'd been living there alone 20 years since my dad died. It was cold and she was old and finicky; half blind and half deaf, on a walker.
"She utilised her community. Fed the birds, lugged coal and wood, lit fires and emptied ashes, threw potato cuttings on the compost heap ... had a rose garden.
"I thought to myself I could learn from this. This would be a fairly dignified and peaceful way to spend one's twilight years.
"As a child I knew a lot about how to survive on the land. My parents knew all about the moon and the tides, when to plant and when to fish.
"I trudged the windy Southland coastlines and muddy eel ponds with them, learned how to dig toheroas, net flounder, froze my behind off with blue fingers and toes, to come home with bucketfuls of tucker from the land.
"At a push I could still do it. It's embedded into my genetic memory."
Her mum moved into Glenbrae rest home in Invercargill early this year. Amid the many big decisions she's made recently, there was a pleasing resonance to this one with the Pleiades up there in the heavens, and the Maori new year marked, Henderson, who is one of seven sisters, named the Matariki Family Trust.
She's been on a long and not-particularly-paved road, spanning decades during which she's become an insider's performer at the Hollywood club scene, sharing postage stamp-sized stages with a just-dropped-in Keith Richards "it's a fairly small world, really, the world of good musos" proudly seen her daughter Lily win an educational scholarship, and recently marrying Los Angeles district attorney, Steven Slavitt, who's on the Government dime fighting environmental crime.
Henderson's cultural background, and vivid connection to the land, is still there in her music and songs co-written with Matt Downs.
The songs in Twisting Wind are about mortality, love and addiction.
There are divorce songs like the lament to her daughter Momma Can't Make It Better This Time and the positively pagan recall of Beltane Fires, harking back to old pre-Christian festivals where people would light fires all over Britain, mask themselves, drink and choose sexual partners completely on instinct. The children who resulted from these unions were raised by their communities. In this Henderson celebrates a ritual that cut across hierarchies and social standings, letting nature rule.
An album highlight, Tea And Sugar is named after the famous Australian goods train that rattles along the longest straight piece of railway in the world, where the singer feels blessedly isolated from people and places.
There are times, says Henderson, when you're going to feel detached "not being in heaven, but you've lost your taste for the world."
Ultimately, she's drawn back by passions personal and environmental.
The songs on Twisting Wind were for the most part written when Henderson was a single mother and didn't have much money.
At times she was so frustrated at how long it took to get them recorded and released. Now, though, the delays seem to have made the timing just right.
"Everybody's going through hard times now, and this record addresses that. Things come out in their own time, not when you think they should."
For her part, she's heading down the track towards one day settling back into New Zealand "and the people and the lifestyle I missed out on all these years chasing that dream. That in itself is some kind of reward, to have come full circle".
Twisting Wind is distributed in New Zealand by Ode Records.