“Henry” – Mike O’Neill
Spiffy little shuffle with more going on than might initially meet the ear. The musical feel is old-fashioned in a Beatle-y kind of way (think “Martha My Dear”), a sensation accentuated by the vintage-sounding “doo-doo-doo” backing vocals; everything seems so immediately comfy and solid. But go ahead and try to sing along with this one. I’ll wait.
Yeah, it’s oddly difficult to follow even as it’s oh so easy to listen to. That’s because as amiable as “Henry” sounds, the music is decidedly off-kilter. If you go ahead and tap out the four-beated measures as they roll by you’ll see that hardly any of the music lines up with the song’s structural rhythm. It’s an intriguing effect. The drummer first plays forcefully between the beats in the introduction (which sounds purposeful and flippant), and then merely implies the 1-2-3-4 without at all playing on the beat. The melody hurries and hesitates in idiosyncratic ways that relate more to how words are spoken than how they are usually sung. This is not as easy to do as it sounds. The beat partially reasserts itself in the chorus, at which point the off-kilter part is that the chorus doesn’t have any words—O’Neill makes do, somehow, with those scratchy wordless “doo-doo-doo” vocals, which themselves are still not sketching out a particularly straightforward path. Note that the second time we hear the chorus, the background vocals are supplemented by a second wordless melody (more “da-da-da” this time) that intertwines with the first in a way that sounds almost like a complete mish-mash and yet isn’t at all. And everything wraps up in 2:25. What’s not to like?
Mike O’Neill was one-half of the Canadian bass-and-drums duo The Inbreds (he was the bass), which had a run of college-radio-oriented success in the ’90s. After switching to guitar and releasing solo albums in 2000 and 2004, O’Neill landed a job composing music for the popular Canadian cooking show, French Food at Home, which ran from 2007 to 2010 and no doubt provided a much-appreciated steady paycheck. He even won a Gemini (a Canadian TV award) for his work. Now the Halifax resident is back at the singer/songwriter life, and at last about to release an album he begun working on back in 2007. It’s coming out later this month, it’s called Wild Lines, and that’s where you’ll find “Henry,” and 11 other songs.