Helen Henderson’s bio may read that her roots are in New Zealand, but on her recently-released album Twisting Wind, she sure sounds like someone with Texas blues in her veins and Delta mud between her toes.
Take a healthy helping of not-quite-as-tortured Lucinda Williams and combine it with some of the sultry swagger of Austin blues belter Lou Ann Barton; stir in some of the smart smoothness of Edie Brickell and you’ll begin to capture Helen Henderson’s sound on Twisting Wind. The rest is all her. There’s a warmth and folkiness when the moment calls for it that’s just as real as the raw, bluesy stuff – neither ever sounds forced or out of character.
Henderson’s backing band for Twisting Wind reads like an all-star team with players like Muscle Shoaler David Hood (yep: Patterson’s dad) on bass and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Spooner Oldham on keys. And speaking of Muscle Shoals (tracks were spilt between there and Los Angeles), Charlie Rose and the Muscle Shoals Horn section add just-right moments of that thang they do throughout the album – always powerful, yet tasteful at the same time.
Part of the comparison to Lucinda Williams may come from more than just Henderson’s vocal stylings – there’s a common denominator in the guitar department, as well. Along with Matt Downs (who sat in on the LA sessions) and Larry Byram (guitar and mando work in Muscle Shoals), the incomparable Doug Pettibone is all over this thing. That’s right – the same Mr. Pettibone who left his smoking mark on Lucinda’s Little Honey last year brings his bag of tricks to Twisting Wind, setting the mood with everything from raunchy blues squawnk to dreamy pedal steel as needed.
There’s a lot of ground covered on the album: the title cut kicks things off with the Muscle Shoals horns pushing a raucous Howlin’ Wolf-style riff along – all tube amp stink and smoky vocals by Henderson. The thing is, the gal sounds just as natural and at home with the Gaelic folk of the next track, “Beltane Flames”. And that’s the story of Twisting Wind: a cool mix of greasy blues and rock (“Better This Time”, “Stringing Me On”, “Lucky One”), up-tempo and lo-fi twang (“Out Of The Woods”, “Stateless”, “Now Is Forever”) and plain-and-simple sweetness (“Your Other Love”).
With Twisting Wind, Helen Henderson has managed to give us an album that sounds familiar yet totally original at the same time. This is music that deserves to be heard.
Brian Robbins also reviews John Fogerty’s new disc this week