The John Henrys opening for the Black Boot Trio at the Cadillac Lounge (1296 Queen West), Friday (July 15). $8. 416-536-7717. Rating: NNNNN
When you put on the self-titled debut disc by the John Henrys, the first thing that hits you is the unusual use of vibes. It's not at all what you'd expect from a country recording made by Ottawa hombres decked out in western wear, certainly not from former bandmates of roots rock singer/songwriter Kate Maki.
Of course, the Sadies have previously attempted to incorporate vibes in their cosmic country routine, but even with a ringer like Hylozolists mainman Paul Aucoin wielding the mallets, it always sounded like trying to make fucking fancy.
With the John Henrys, however, the vibes-plinking fits in perfectly with their slightly skewed concept of country soul and makes their deep schooling in Gram Parsons-era Flying Burrito Brothers a little less obvious.
"We experimented with a number of different things during the recording," explains John Henrys frontman Rey Sabatin over the phone from an Ottawa guitar shop. "We tried to keep the mood dark, so I tried various guitar effects, and nothing worked.
"I remembered seeing the Sadies in Ottawa two years ago when they had the vibes guy with them, but I still wasn't sure it was the right sound for us. There happened to be a set of vibes in the studio where we were recording, and our drummer, Geoff Ward, can play vibes, so we tried it. The first time through it was, like, 'Yeah! That's it!'"
Even though the John Henrys spent just six days in the studio to record the songs for their debut disc, it took a year to release it.
After finally getting the disc onto record shop shelves in Ottawa this past January, it's taken another six months for it to appear in Toronto. And that's only because they've hooked up with the Black Boot Trio for a tag-team record release party Friday night at the Cadillac Lounge. What's the hold-up?
"Well, I had this grand vision that the whole thing had to be done on tape, with no computers involved in the recording or mastering. That was expensive, and we had to pay for that out of the money we made from the few gigs we'd play. So it was one day in the studio this month, another day next month and maybe two days three months later, which wound up taking about a year.
"After all that, we started having second thoughts about releasing it, because in the meantime we'd developed so much as a band. It was like pre-release jitters. We kept thinking, 'Should we re-record everything or just put it out as is?' Eventually, we decided to just get it out and move on. No one wanted to start over from scratch."
Lately, the John Henrys have been back in the studio recording again, and the 30 new songs they've got have led to further band discussions. Don't count on seeing the new disc any time soon.
"A few songs in a more R&B style didn't quite fit in with the other stuff on our first album, so we saved those for the new one. Since we have so much backlogged material, we were talking about whether we should release it as a double. I'm kinda leaning toward paring it down to a strong single disc in a digipak, but that's something we'll need to talk about." firstname.lastname@example.org