Jo Henley’s “Around These Parts” Review

December 9, 2014

Uncategorized

atp-cover The mighty Jo Henley Band has finally released their much-anticipated album, “Around These Parts.”  This latest release has a tough act to follow, coming on the heels of the band’s masterpiece, “Live at the Spire”, created by Sea Sound recording studios in Plymouth, MA.  Jo Henley has been playing teasers off the new ATP album during their recent live shows, much to the delight of diehard Henley fans.  This latest studio album is a clean, crisp, professionally-mastered novel of fresh new-roots music.  Recorded on the outskirts of “The city that lights and hauls the world” in upstate New York, the album is rife with emotion and laced with historical accuracy, personal disappointment and carnal desperation – all set to magical scores.

1375978_617605258278551_698176361_nFront man and band mastermind, Andrew Campolieto, is the consummate American literature student and teacher.  His keen understanding and vast knowledge shines through on the very first track, “Nowhere To Go But Everywhere.”  The song borrows its title from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. This number showcases the full range of Campolieto’s vocals, paired with fine acoustic picking and soulful rhythms, setting listeners on a wide open road of  optimism, opportunity and adventure both real and imagined. It is the literal beginning of the road of life, while setting the theme of the new album.

DSC09421Track Two,”The Last Monkey Maker”.   Based loosely on an old family friend who made toy monkeys for all the children in her life, as Andy explained at one of his recent shows.  The song develops from its lighthearted, stringed intro with magical riffs, into an indictment of modern man and his hell-bent journey toward destruction and ultimately extinction.  Its catchy chorus and humorous prose are the perfect disguise for this protest anthem of dire warning for mankind.  As I listen, my mind drifts toward Joni Mitchell’s “Paved Paradise”.  This number reveals Campolieto’s  passion for the road…the road  we are on as a race and the dire consequences we must face as we continue blindly toward our own end.

Track Three, “Bayley Hazen Road”.    A toe-tapping joyride along one of America’s most DSC01807historic, yet unknown roadways.   Bayley Hazen Road runs from the mill towns of Vermont into Montreal, Canada.  I recommend playing the song while reading the history of this incredible road less taken.  Soothing guitar licks and addictive bass hooks tie together perfectly with percussion and expert musical engineering.  I often play it in the background while watching this snowmobile clip from the Bayley Hazen Road.  (Be sure to turn the sound off on the video).  This, like so many of Campolieto’s writings, are seldom what they appear at first glance.

10155281_10203582442619306_2623790315660221158_nTrack Four, “Deep in the Dirt”.   A sobering and haunting duet featuring  the accompaniment of the talented Hayley Sabella.  “Deep in the Dirt” is a defining song on the album, describing the pagan-like consciousness of decomposing human remains speaking to the living as it returns to the earth as dust.  Winter cold, deep snow and an eternal indifference to the human existence are devastating metaphors of a Godless afterlife.  A life without redemption or eternal reward… only the decaying conscience of the human carcass returning, fully aware, back into the earth. The resentment and envy from below the surface, directed toward those still living and toiling through life above the dirt,  is haunting and unsettling for this fan.

Track Five, “Jericho”.   Another road of life, featuring  the most famous road in all of MAH092008-e1382971743523-1024x945Christendom as a brilliant metaphor about the  road of true faith we all must travel.  Cloaked in light strings and gentle vocals, the stubborn skepticism of Campolieto and the struggles of faith and doubt battle in the arenas of desire and need for the love and acceptance of a misrepresented creator.  The magic of the mandolin and banjo bring this gentle lament to life with fingers and strings.  Just like so many of Campolieto’s masterpieces, the song suggests boy/girl love in a generic relationship but is a clever camouflage for far more sophisticated personal themes. Campolieto can never be put in a box; and it is often unclear the true inspiration of his songs until they’re played and replayed dozens, if not hundreds, of times.  Or perhaps you will be lucky enough to hear him explain them at a live show.  In this song, Campolieto becomes the Good Samaritan on the road to Jericho, giving aid and comfort to the wounded church that has let him down and betrayed his trust as it lay dying on the road to Jericho.

hay3Track Six, “Wait Till May”.   Sabella makes a second appearance on the album describing the night of the Boston Marathon bombing from a first person perspective.  A beautiful song about that long night in April when domestic terrorists shattered the peace and ran loose around Watertown, MA. Campolieto uses vivid imagery and simple observations, such as crime scene tape and confetti still sticking to his shoes, as tanks roll past his house.  An example of our total vulnerabilities is illustrated in the line “My fingers grip my camera like a loaded gun, too numb to shoot a frame.  Sabella’s angelic vocals paired with Campolieto’s prose present a convincing portrayal of a young family in the midst of a dark  dangerous night in Boston

 

DSC04409Track Seven, “Follow My Light”.   Another gorgeous metaphor of the eternal contrasted with the natural.  Laced in harmonica and staged in an older place and time, “Follow My Light” sails along on a melancholy sea of faded hope and lost love with musical brilliance.  Crashing waves, eternal tides and the relentless worsening storm fill this jewel.  Campolieto draws a gorgeous sketch of a man’s broken heart in the pit of despair as time grows short and hope grows dim for a true historical character who manned Maine’s Nebble Light for decades – alone, awaiting the return of his lost love. The song brings to mind the great song “Minot” by the Dancing Nancies.

 

 

MAH091991-280x300Track Eight, “One More Night”.  Along the road of life, there are few greater beasts to conquer than depression, the angst, the slew of despondency, the blues.  The Infinite Sadness, as it is sometimes called.  Those familiar with the sleepless nights, the overwhelming sorrow, and the feeling of utter despair paired with racing thoughts, unexplained anxiety, and profound grief, need no explanation of this one.  As is always the case, it is unclear if Andy is talking about himself or a loved one in the first person.  The musical score is so stellar, so tight and fresh, that the sadness stays buried just below the surface.  The versatility and cunning of this bright American songwriter is showcased in this paradoxical gem.

Track Nine, “Route 81″Back on the road of life, Campolieto focuses on the summers of DSC06550our lives – the seasons of fun, joy and the benefit of youth.  An  uplifting song about sunshine, wine, weed,  girls, music, great food and spirit make this an instant classic. “Route 81″ looks back longingly at the good times in life from a later, defining moment.  A moment further down the road, after the summer of youth has ended and the joy of living has vanished.  The song is symbolically shorter than any Jo Henley song, aside from “Mohawk” (instrumental), much the same as the good times of our lives can sometimes be a very short season.  When the band plays this song live, it can go on for ten minutes and not a person remains seated.  Its desperate and futile undertones are all but invisible behind big smiles and good-time, high-flying music and performance, in the realm of a Jimmy Buffet song.

Track Ten, “Around These Parts”.  The title song of the album brings the entire CD together from top to bottom. The file sketches out the feelings of a man near the end of his road, undecided if he should just hang it up and drink himself into oblivion or choose another geographical solution to a carnal problem.  The static of French language that he can’t understand on his radio seems to dim any hope he may have entertained of finding fulfillment in his miserable existence through just one more new destination. The song features acute guitar licks, heartfelt lyrics and exquisite vocals.  A subtle reference to Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes is made when he mentions Katie, who has been gone since spring.  Not too sure of the implications, but I couldn’t let it go unsaid.

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“Around These Parts” is an incredible piece of American literature, even aside from the music. It is the searing masterpiece of a wordsmith that lacks only a redeemer to save us from the road we are on.   ATP carries one down the roads of life, disturbing our comfort in our own false sense of security.  Suddenly, you realize you have run out of road and are careening into the abyss with no redemption, no heavenly finale – only the cold, hard, inevitable winter of eternal lament.   Campolieto dives head first into the most fearful and tragic aspects of life, illustrating the many roads that all lead to eventual ruin.  It is the futility of our existence and the utter desperation of our earthly predicament of  human condition set to metaphoric roads.  In Dylanesque fashion, Campolieto hits from many different angles, driving the new album all the way to the end of the proverbial road.  However, if one is inclined to ignore the magnitude of this epic CD and simply go with the flow of the music, it will suit you nicely as a brand new piece of rock and roll.

 

For a limited time, you can get a free download of this album at Jo Henley.com

Jo Henley Around These Parts.