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April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

CD Reviews

MRS. HENRY: Keep on Rising, Act II: Faith, Fate, and Hope in the Land of Nothing Matters

by Drew DouglasMarch 2023

As the name suggests, this is the continuation of an expansive triple-record rock opera. For this review I’ll be concentrating primarily on the music and not so much the lyrical themes. I’ll be digging full bore into those and much more in a full feature on Mrs. Henry in an upcoming issue of Troubadour. But for now, I’ll try to keep my focus on the soundscape of this most recent release.

Mrs. Henry has carved a niche in Southern California with sun-soaked barn burners in the vein of ’70s stadium bands that once ruled the world in a time when vinyl was king. They are bell bottom corduroy and thick guitars backed by swirling Leslie organs and punchy lyrical deliveries in the vein of Queen, T-Rex, or, in their more tender moments, the Band. This album covers all of that and then some. “For the full throttle listen, I’d suggest using headphones or Stoney speakers, Act I right into Act II.” says front man Daniel Cervantes.

So, let’s clap on the cans and crank it.

Act II begins slowly but confidently, lulling you in with a tinkering music-box melody that slowly builds with ominous reversed tape effects and haunting undertones. A military snare. Doom-filled sonic swells carry you to a reprise of the “Rise” vocal harmony that was introduced way back on Act I, giving way to a blistering guitar solo followed by menacing spoken-baritone vocals and guttural screams. This is the music my Southern Baptist Sunday school teachers lectured me about. And we’re just getting started.

“Act II is by far the most challenging, abstract, and obscure of the albums making up Keep on Rising,” says Cervantes bluntly.

As the record progresses, his point is made in short order. Not to be pigeonholed, we’re quickly reminded of the breadth of influence and ability behind Mrs. Henry.

“Here I Am” reveals a funky backbeat leaning heavily on the Leslie and while Mrs. Henry wears its ’70s influences with abandon, we also hear early ’80s metal concept albums from Molly Hatchet to Judas Priest raising their heads to headbang in approval.

The wah peddle is well worked here, weaving with the Leslie. And then we’re off to the races again as big as Queen in their most anthemic moments with a guttural scream of the harder metal bands that followed.

And then we pull back and build again, continuing the roller coaster jam that defines the album into a huge crescendo of screaming guitars and organs and thunderous rhythm.

But just when you think we’re driving into shouty anger we are met with tight Steely Dan harmonies that transition back to the music box lullaby and what’s this…a flute? And just like that we’re into the tender Roger Waters-like pre-ballad of “I Believe,” a voice tender with strained longing. And we pull back fully to a lone piano and Jody Bagley’s voice stretching out sincerely.

As an acoustic artist myself, “It’s Okay” grabs me as a standout piano ballad with a simple but powerful message.

But if you like your classic rock huge, with sweeping epic themes and cinematic musical scores to match, this album was made for you, and you never have to wait long for the huge RAWK. This is the heart of a triple-album in the grandest tradition of shamelessly overblown grandiosity. A fearless revival of the heady concept album that very few bother to make anymore.

But just when you think this epic is getting too full of itself, we pull back the curtain for some studio silliness with assuring and playful banter among the musicians providing comic-relief.

“Meanwhile Back at the Ranch” (literally the name of the next song) dives back into the weirdness with some space-cowboy attitude leading into some radio hucksterism that introduces the Band-influenced side of Mrs. Henry. “Find a Circle (It’s a Wonderful Feeling)is full of groovy harmonies, a little banjo, and steel guitars bringing back the ’70s faded-Polaroid California jam. Through it all, the rhythm section holds down just enough funk and in-the-pocket groove to keep your ass shaking. This is another standout revealing the “Chest Fever” alter-ego of Mrs. Henry in full form.

“And Action…” thrusts us into the shire for some flute-backed druid rock!

This album travels through many styles, stubbornly turning every time you think you’ve pinned it down. Rolling into “The Tall Tale of The Three Little Pigs” sounds like it could be Mr. Bungle influenced with weird, jazzy cacophonous melodies.

Cervantes and crew are a crack band of incredibly talented musicians up to the task of curating decades of inspiration into a cohesive tome that wears its influences on its sleeve while simultaneously creating something wholly original.

It’s hard to imagine any of this working without an incredibly tight rhythm section and Cervantes is working with some of the best in the business with Chad Lee on drums and Blake Dean on bass. Together with Jody Bagley on keys they pull off a tremendous task with swagger and joyful celebration as we steam toward the dramatic Act II finale.

And so, we find ourselves at the penultimate number, “Om Way Oh,” opening with a carnival-like swirl before returning to stadium rock grandeur as it rolls into the final powerful vocal invocations of the finale, “Hope Is Rising.” As we close out the album, Bagley bellows one last “Keep on Risiiiiiiiiiiing” as the chorus joins in, “Rising, Rising, RISING!” to a final crescendo.

This concludes an epic and emotional journey with sweeping reach and ambition. Very few people have the talent and personnel to pull off a vision this large. Mrs. Henry proves they are not only capable of the task, they are ready to pick up the torch as standard bearers and blaze new epic journeys that strive to be tomorrow’s classics.

So, drop the needle and strap in for the ride. It’s going to be a doozy!

 

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