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Artist: Henry

Album: Henry

Label: self-released

Review date: Oct. 14, 2002

A 6-year-old with Something to Say

The new album by Henry, a 6-year old Michigan elementary school student, is unique and moving. A far cry from the Kids Say The Darndest Things formula, where adults pressure children into performing for entertainment’s sake, Henry’s self-titled album genuinely reflects vignettes of the young man’s life, and in the process displays a revolution of self-expression.

Henry is plagued initially with self-doubt, declaring that he “doesn’t know what to say” less than a minute into the first song. His reluctance to sing quickly subsides, but a suitable subject matter continues to elude him. For the remainder of the song, Henry sings in non-words. Meanwhile, his teacher (who made this recording possible) accompanies him with a simple melody on the toy piano.

Eventually, given the opportunity to sing and play unhindered, Henry becomes comfortable free-associating about his surroundings and his desires, admitting repeatedly on the second song that he “likes to play outside,” and accenting his statement with drums and percussive vocalizations.

Henry himself plays the piano on song three, which in subject reflects on the colors of the rainbow and what a beautiful day it is outside. This is the first song on which Henry dictates both the lyrics and the melodic content, and the result is stunning and even frightening. As the young man notices his voice interact with the clashing piano notes, he becomes increasingly aggressive, insisting that the listener notices the colors of the rainbow, etc, and his aggression becomes a very recognizable incarnation of the mounting passion which music so often inspires in performing artists, particularly those who improvise.

The teacher returns to the piano stool on the next song, and Henry tries his hand at the whistle, the drums, and perhaps the bells simultaneously. This song is a nice winding-down from the previous, and provides an appropriate interlude to the next track, titled “ A Smile.” Though ostensibly an exploration of the happiness inherent in smiling, the track also touches on sadness, and even as Henry’s voice reaches an excited plateau there is a tangible sense of melancholy.

By the middle of the album, Henry’s inhibitions disappear entirely. The listener senses a cathartic release of emotion as Henry becomes aware of the number of expressive possibilities available to him. Where does one go when this occurs? For Henry, there are immediate ventures into the absurd, the further territories of creative thought. While Henry once sang of safe and concrete things like rainbows, he now begins to ruminate on pink robot birds while playing wildly upon the keys.

A transformation is captured on “Henry,” where a human being at a young age becomes aware of his imaginative capacity. This experience will, perhaps single-handedly, revolutionize Henry’s creative life. Do most of us remember such moments in our own lives? Would children at large benefit if educators more often involved them in these kinds of projects? How do people develop an inclination towards creativity? In the vein of The Langley Schools Music Project, but even less reigned in by the weight of instruction, Henry is a rare and beautiful work which raises provocative questions.

For information on getting a copy of this album please write us at dusted@dustedmagazine.com.and we'll steer you in the right direction

By Ben Tausig

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