Wednesday, 12 August 2015

MEGAN HENWOOD

CD Review

Head Heart Hand

This is a seriously cool album from a seriously cool artist. While it's not what you would call a traditional or exclusively folk album, there is enough in there to keep folkies' interest.

Megan Henwood.
Picture Elly Lucas
However, also crammed into this impressive collection of songs is country, blues, soul and anything else Megan Henwood chooses to throw into the mix, and believe it, she has shoe-horned a lot into this album.
Her opening track Love/Loathe introduces her voice which has a smoky breathless quality which seems a cross between the rapid fire and cutting lyrics of Lily Allen and the depth and strength of Annie Lennox. The tune has a similar cadence to Egyptian Reggae or Madness' Night Boat To Cairo but Henwood keeps breaking away to give her lounge voice a chance to shine.
This is followed by a beautiful ballad, Grateful Ghost. In its execution it sounds a very simple tune with just Henwood's voice and the gentle strumming of her guitar but you get a real sense of the depth of emotion she carries in her singing. She keeps her singing in the higher strata of her range on this track leaving behind the sultriness of the previous and for the second part moving into a Paul Simon-style of music.
With Chemicals she keeps the lighter lilt to her singing which belies the gravitas of the lyrics and the way she moves from the high notes to the almost sulky whispering is really endearing and mirror the emotions she is singing about, the highs and lows of life.
Lolita
The rock chick and bluesy side of her voice makes an appearance for These Walls which slips between a kind of torch song to what is almost a power ballad.
The most traditional song on the album is Rose Red,  a very short medieval sounding round. Henwood's slightly smoky voice staying just enough above the others. Garden is a harder hitting ballad and even though her singing is very mature it does carry a sense of vulnerability about it. The song is almost in two parts and slips into a heavier rock sound in the second half. Her next offering No Good No Fun does start off with a sixties feel but then listening to it is a little like flicking the pages of a scrapbook, you know you are looking at whole collection but the separate elements don't necessarily link to each other. It makes for an interesting song and certainly isn't easy to categorise. Our Little Secret deals with the controversial subject of sexual relationships between teacher and pupil. It sounds like a musical version of Lolita but Henwood also deals with the realisation and abuse of power from the girl.
It doesn't make easy listening with lyrics such as "I will tell them all you made me, if you don't obey." This is followed by Puppet and the Songbird and is very much a gypsy tune with some wonderful jazz violin from Matthew Holborn and some strange lyrics from the singer with lines such as "The songbird made nest in my lungs". After this comes Fall and Fade which is more like a poem put to music. It does have a slight late night jazz feel to it and Henwood's muted and breathy singing is both calming and seductive in equal measure and is helped by the languid cello playing of Matthew Forbes.
The new album
Henwood is joined by Jackie Oates on vocals for Lead Balloon which is a very laid back almost lazy ballad. It's gentle, and Henwood almost takes on the attributes of Bjork. The final track, Painkiller, is uncanny is that the opening and style of her singing makes her sound like a female version of Paul Simon both in tone and style.
Oates again makes an appearance on this ballad which turns into a full vocal production which includes the wonderfully named Catweazle Choir.
This is an unusual album in that even the literally illustrative artwork is both interesting and slightly macabre.
 It sums up Henwood's collection, on the surface it's quite warm and welcoming but there is also that little edge which never let's you get fully comfortable with listening to it, something she has got down to fine art on a fine album.


Head Heart Hand is available now and released through Dharma Records.