Tuesday, 7 August 2012

ALBUM REVIEW: The Henry Girls - December Moon

The Inishowen siblings' most recent release is like a slightly understated version of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack... and it's all the better for it

Goats Don't Shave once declared that Inishowen could be known for its multi-millionaires, but, as I once expounded in a recent article, what resonates most about the colourful peninsula is not just the striking scenery but the strong sense of community. One group that clearly adhere to this are Malin-born Lorna, Karen and Joleen McLaughlin, better known as The Henry Girls, who have endeared themselves to many through their pleasant harmonies, eclectic instrumentals, universally appealing melodies and always interesting lyrics. Their latest album delivers all of those in droves, giving one the welcome feeling of attending an intimate gig in their own home.

The easy-going tempo of the thoughtful opener "Sing My Sister Down" contrasts nicely with the catchiness, irresistible harmony and jaunt of the title track. Already, one can detect positive traces of Clannad with a little Corrs circa "Forgiven, Not Forgotten" thrown in for good measure – that is to say, a band, not a brand. This trend continues throughout the whole record, with traditional arrangements, some heavier than others, mixing with bluegrass, gospel, country and even dance music in a wholly likable concoction.

Yes, I said "dance". If there's one thing "December Moon" (the album, not just the song) will certainly be remembered for, it's experimentation. Their collaboration with the Echo Echo Dance troupe during their cover of Elvis Costello's "Watching The Detectives" was so appealing on a recent tour that one wonders how the song can succeed without the dancers. Well, succeed it does, with Lorna's smooth, everywoman vocals dovetailing very nicely with her sisters cheerful instrumentals. The cheerful then contrasts with the not-so-cheerful in an equally experimental pair of brief instrumentals led by Joleen, "Moonstruck" and "Aisling".

It's a tribute to the girls' talents that the consistently fluctuating (and sometimes haphazard) tone of the record, which can be joyous one minute and melancholy the next, never once seems jarring. Like a traditional set list, they seem to know exactly when we could do with a breather, when we need uplift, and when we feel like contemplation. It's like an entirely female, but slightly lower key version of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack (which I still regard as one of the finest soundtracks of the noughties). The finger-clicking rhythm and hummable melodies of "When Will I See You Again", "Ol' Cook Pot" and "Couldn’t Ask For More" are especially hard to resist.

Naturally, there are a few rough edges; in particular, the guitar element in "Rain And Snow" is not entirely convincing, and some songs are easier to warm to than others. But the girls' good nature and consistent innovation (notably, the use of brass instruments in "The Long Road") helps circumnavigate these, leaving one with the feeling of having been on a pleasant musical journey.

While it's not for me to say if The Henry Girls will be "multi-millionaires", this fine collection of songs should point them in the right direction.