The John Henrys from Canada have put together a set of tuneful melodic songs on White Linen. This is not one of those albums you’ll fall in love with on first listen, as it takes a few airings before the catchy hooks start to embed themselves in your consciousness. Reminiscent at times of REM and Tom Petty, this is music to listen to while driving along on a sunny day.
Co-produced by the entire band, the main songwriter is guitarist and singer Rey Sabatin, who is involved in writing all but two of the 11 songs. In the main, the band’s gift for melody is not matched by attention-grabbing lyrics. It takes a few careful listens to find out what many of the songs are about. When you do, you’ll find well-worked themes of finding the right girl, being poor but still having fun, going out dancing and on the other side of the spectrum songs about breaking up, moving on and leaving town.
The album’s opener “Little One” is typical, with a strong melody, jingle-jangle guitars and a lyric about breaking up: Don’t leave me coming undone, Wondering how it all went wrong, At the end of our days.
The couple of songs which stray into more interesting areas offer a glimpse of what might have been. “Cold Chill”, an atypical slower song, is a lyrically more intriguing modern-day murder ballad: Guess I’d had my fill of being left behind….Your body stiffened then with my hands over your mouth….….Said you loved me once but it ain’t like that now.
And Patriot Song, written and presumably sung by Doug Gouthro is apparently about the 1838 Battle of the Windmill between the British and Americans in Prescott, Ontario. It offers intriguing glimpses, from the scraps of lyrics you can catch, about having the wrong size cannonballs and no medical supplies, but doesn’t give a sufficient sense of time and place to really impress itself upon you.
So while there’s some good tunes here, overall White Linen, the band’s third release, can only be counted as at best a qualified success.