From County Donegal, The Henry Girls (Karen, Lorna and Joleen McLaughlin) have found a way to personalize their music with crystalline vocals, lilting melodies and eclectic influences. Produced by Calum Malcolm, December Moon also offers relaxed sophistication in its arrangements. Karen plays fiddle, viola, guitar, banjo and even some ukulele. Joleen is a harper, but she also adds a little mandolin and piano to the mix. Lorna’s instrumental contributions are more understated, with some piano, accordion and chimes on a few tracks. All three women have music degrees, teach regularly, and have toured for years. Recently, they appeared as backing vocalists on Mary Black‘s Stories from the Steeples.
With the exception of four tracks, all songs on December Moon were written by The Henry Girls. All lyrics are on their website. We hear three voices emerge with irresistible clarity and emotion. Opening with “Sing My Sister Down,” they establish a spiritually-infused groove even though the story is a sad one of personal travail and retribution. “December Moon” has a Cajun feeling with synthesized sounds of xylophone and triangle as the girls sing of burning hearts unfulfilled. A one-minute reprisal of the tune, in the form of “Moonstruck,” evokes a worldly African beat featuring only harp, kora and percussion. Some of The Henry Girls’ earthy songs like the optimistic “Stop Saying Forever” and “When Will I See You Again?” tread territory between mellow and trendy. The stage for “Sweet Dreams” is set as “night time comes around and peaceful melodies will play.”
Without any punk rock sensibilities, the cover of Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” is a good choice for musicians who appreciate that English singer-songwriter’s literate lyrics and eclecticism. Throughout the set, many skillful musicians contribute a variety of sounds ranging from Atenteben bamboo flute to Dobro. A horn section on “The Long Road” and swinging “Couldn’t Ask for More” provides a full ensemble sound, while a much leaner setting of only three instruments for “Aisling” provides nice contrast. The electric sounds incorporated into the traditional “Rain and Snow” were innovative but not quite my cup of tea. Shout outs are appropriate for the strong rhythm section on nearly every track by Nicky Scott (double bass) and Liam Bradley (drums, percussion), as well as the strings of Denise Boyle.
I haven’t heard The Henry Girls’ three previous album releases, Between Us (2002), Morning Rush (2007), and Dawn (2009). However, if they’re anything like their 2011 December Moon project, they can count me as one among their expanding legion of fans. Stay tuned for the details of their summer 2012 U.S. tour, and catch these rising stars if you can.