If you're a younger folkfan like myself, and you know Jim Henry at all, it's probably for his work with others – whether it's as a session musician for the likes of The Weepies, Mark Erelli, or Cliff Eberhardt, a guitar and mando collaborator with fellow stringwizard Brooks Williams a la Grisman and Garcia, or, most recently, as a David Rawlings to Tracy Grammer, whose career performing the songs of her late partner Dave Carter is much enriched by Jim's direct, honest string work, harmonies, and production. In fact, Jim's work as a highly versatile sideman and producer over the last few years is legendary within the northeastern folkscene, at least among those of us who read liner notes to see who else is playing on the better tracks; he is greatly respected by critics and label-hounds, even if his name is only vaguely familiar to the average folk listener.
But Jim Henry gets around. He made his name as a member of the Sundogs, a "swamp boogie" band popular on the New England circuit twenty years ago. His solo work in the late nineties, before he shifted to sideman work as a primary outlet for his musicianship, won broad recognition on a national scale, finding its way to folk radio everywhere, and topping the Gavin Americana charts. And though he spends more time supporting the projects of other musicians these days, over the past decade, guitar and mando master Jim Henry has quietly released a few solo “seven song six-packs” on his own personal in-house label, and they're surprisingly good, honest, melodic folk music, played masterfully but understated, without ego or fanfare, as befits his down-to-earth style.
In concert and in press photos, Henry comes across as a guy who is genuinely happy, almost ecstatically so, to be where he is right at that moment, pickin' and grinning and making good noise. I was struck by this cheerful ease when I saw him with Tracy Grammer this summer, and think it comes across in these recordings, too -- both in his lyrics, and his easy approach to songcraft and production.
But don't take my word for it. Check out these genuinely nice, lighthearted renditions of a few familiar folk standards, and then head on over to Jim Henry's website for full streams of his more recent works, including his brand new EP King of Hearts, which features a very simple, very beautiful rendition of Home on the Range in addition to the below Richard Thompson cover and five sweet originals, and the similarly intimate 2005 EP One-Horse Town, which features Henry and Grammer on a previously unrecorded Dave Carter tune. Buy 'em while you're there, 'cause you're going to want to keep these EPs in the car - they're the perfect thing for long drives on those bright, sunny fall days ahead.
- Jim Henry: 1952 Vincent Black Lightning (orig. Richard Thompson)
(from King of Hearts, 2008)
- Jim Henry: St James Infirmary (trad.)
- Jim Henry: Deep River Blues (trad; arr. Doc Watson)
(from One-Horse Town, 2005)
These days, Jim plays most gigs with Tracy, and that's good honest folk music, too. Hence today's bonus coversong: two covers released under Tracy's name, and an irresistible pair from a previous collaboration.
- Tracy Grammer: The Waking Hour (orig. David Francey)
(from Book Of Sparrows, 2007)
- Tracy Grammer w/ Jim Henry: Laughlin Boy (trad.)
(from Flowers of Avalon, 2005)
- Jim Henry and Brooks Williams: Malted Milk (orig. Robert Johnson)
- Jim Henry and Brooks Williams: Time to Ring Some Changes (orig. Richard Thompson)
(from Ring Some Changes, 1997)
Previously on Cover Lay Down: