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This album is currently doing well in the EuroAmericana Chart, and it’s not hard to see why. Melding country influences with some high-grade pop treatments has worked well for Joel Henderson’s brand of thoughtful introspection.

              Having moved around a lot in his childhood, he is now based in Louisville, Kentucky – a place in the centre of America where he feels he has learned to find his own centre. These songs deal in various ways with the business of coming to terms with adult life – trying to make relationships work and working out how to cope with the “locked doors and pretty fences” that hem us in, some that we make for ourselves and some that circumstances impose. Making a commitment to the things that are going to work for us is the hard part and in the song Stranger he tells how he’s forever caught between “running away and walking tall for you”. Ultimately he knows that the crux of the matter is that “I am just a stranger without you” and that it’s good to have someone by his side.  

               Throughout this album, the mood is quiet and contemplative. Joel sings with steady deliberation, measuring each phrase carefully and allowing the soul to flow in to his extended notes. In Heidi Gluck he has a wonderful singing partner, adding so much without distracting from the central performance, whilst Stasia Demos makes a guest appearance as co-lead vocalist on Baby, I’m So Over You, adding some grit to the mix.  This song is written from one side of the break up but having them both expressing the same emotional confusion makes its point.

                The introspection of the lyrics is matched by quiet, unobtrusive arrangements, but sometimes the opportunity is taken to build a richer sound: no big drama but enough extra oomph to feel that this is something you might hear on the radio. Are We Running in particular sounds like it could become a pop moment: a steady driving drumbeat, twanging guitars and soaring harmonies in the chorus all add up to a song that might lodge in the consciousness. It’s also a moment where, lyrically, he’s talking about throwing it all up and starting over; it seems that the couple in the song have lost their house so he’s saying, effectively, what the heck? Let’s hit the road and see what else is out there. People have been writing about these themes for a long time but every generation experiences it afresh, and Joel Henderson has made his own thoughtful contribution to the canon.

John Davy

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September 2018

The Devil Makes Three
70 pts.
Chains Are Broken
New West
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