CD: Lead and Iron
Artist: Henhouse Prowlers
Label: Dark Shadow Recording
Artist Website: www.henhouseprowlers.com
Label Website: www.darkshadowrecording.com
“So much more to be home for....”
Right off the bat, I was baited, then hooked, then reeled in. I don't know if a better song for Track #1 could have been picked...or written. A song at the perfect speed, it sounds fast but really isn't. And there's something, somewhere in the lyrics of “Home For” that's got to strike memories of the joys and comforts of home. But wait. There's more. In fact, there's a whole album more on Lead and Iron, an album that seems more of a journey rather than a loose connection of recorded songs.
Lead and Iron's credited songwriters are Henhouse Prowlers Chris Dollar, Jake Howard, Jon Goldfine, and Ben Wright, with Rick Lang and producer Stephen Mougin getting co-writing credits on a couple of songs. I admire bands who play their own music, and there is a lot to be admired here. What the Henhouse Prowlers have given us is a whole CD of ballads, two-steps, breakdowns, catchy lyrics, and cleverly crafted songs, good harmonies, and superb instrumentation, all well done: not rushed, not forced, but soothing.
I first became aware of the Henhouse Prowlers a few years ago, accidentally introduced to them via the mysterious results of a YouTube surf, and have enjoyed their music ever since. This recording, through Dark Shadow Recording, is superb, sounds great, and I hope is the direction of the music business, with more music that resembles art. This is music that is expressive of the writer/artist, perhaps a bit progressive for some purists, but is not just “other” music done in a Bluegrass style, which is something that grows tedious. There is no tedium here. This is all fresh. This is all new.
The songs are:
1. Home For
2. Lead and Iron
3. My Last Run
4. Wobbly Dog
5. Subscription to Loneliness
6. Passenger Train Boogie
7. Forgotten Gravestones
8. Rolling Wheels
9. Died Before Their Time
10. The Snow
11. My Little Flower
“Home For,” as I said, has a least one line that will sooner or later grab everyone. “I sure miss the smell of Autumn woods. I'd come home right now if I could.” “Well, it would be so nice to rest my head in the soft sheets of my own bed.” I don't know about you, but having been away for extended periods from my Autumn woods, and my own bed, these lines made me lonesome for home, in spite of me being at home.
“Lead and Iron” is a great title for a song, bringing visions of cowboys, conflicts over the open range, manifest destiny, etc., and not even the remotest conjured image of a cello-banjo, which was a nice surprise with its Hartford-esque sound. An extended instrumental break comes with some interesting counterpoint I wasn't expecting. It was more than I expected. More than I expected is always welcome. The inspiration, according to writer Jake Howard, is darker than I imagined.
“My Last Run” isn't wasting any time getting there. Another song about going home, and not coming back to wherever is behind, but this one is traveling at 150+ bpm. Great banjo and guitar work. No doubt, some Prowlers are steeped in early Newgrass Revival. Don't feel bad. So was I.
“Wobbly Dog” is an mid-tempo instrumental, wobbling in an unusual path, musically and rhythmical, not intuitive. It was enjoyable through and through, but don't spring this one at a late night jam.
“Subscription To Loneliness” is a pure country-shuffle two-step. I can imagine this sung by Webb Pierce in the mid-fifties. I was transported back to a dance floor. The twin fiddles of Becky Buller and Laura Orshaw didn't hurt a thing.
“Passenger Train Boogie,” jazzy, bluesy, almost like a big-band show-tune with it's Cab Calloway type of rap. Another jam buster. You need to know this one. And, the guitar just busted in with a perfect solo. My foot's patting right along to the wonderful singing and the band's wonderful unison instrument lines.
“Forgotten Gravestones” came along at the perfect time. Poignant and harmonious. “Each and every stone there stands for a soul, but who they were, I'll never know.” This is great songwriting. Old graveyards tell a story even to those who knew no one interred there, one just has to stop a look at the stones. Prowler Ben Wright is credited with writing this song. I think a cemetery grabbed him at some point and said, “Listen up.” This is a feeling we all know.
“Rolling Wheels” is about going somewhere. Back home? Away from here? Towards better climes? Towards promise? Towards our true love? I think all of them.
“Died Before Their Time” Dark histories, says the liner notes. Modal, octave mandolin, Southern injustices, Cambodia, Liberia, Rwanda...insert the conflict of your choice. I think this may be the only time I'll ever get to hear former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor condemned in a song. This song did not give me any good feelings, but was on the disturbing side. No doubt, it was meant to be. Political commentary with a purpose. Mission accomplished.
“The Show” a beautiful waltz. “The show you put on between dusk and dawn. We have all seen it. We know you don't mean it.” Stop it!
“My Little Flower” goes BANG and never stops. I counted 160 bpm, but this band is in the pocket all the way through. The harmony slides that bend up and resolve to the note you want are just delightful. I think it even kicks it up a few beats the last time around.
I have not picked out any favorites, but this is also the first time I ever wrote a review wherein I mentioned every song. You can decide for yourself which ones are my favorites. Everything about this recording is delightful, the band, the instrumentals, the singing, the engineering, the mastering, the songwriting, and the songwriting. Yes, I mentioned the songwriting twice. It was worth mentioning twice. I also like the dark suits, the ties, and the dress shoes.
If you want to hear re-hashes of the classic bluegrass music we all know and love, Lead and Iron is not for you. If you want to hear contemporary music done in the “bluegrass” style, Lead and Iron is still not for you. If you want to hear new, original music, played on typically traditional bluegrass instrumentation, music that is at the forefront of relevance for a new acoustic generation, Lead and Iron might be just what you've been looking for. Salute to all the Henhouse Prowlers and Producer Stephen Mougin.
I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being on a musical journey while prowling around the henhouse.
Mississippi Chris Sharp