Henson appears to have left his weeping at the piano well and truly behind him with the opening track to his new album Kindly Now. ‘March’ ventures into the realm of minimalist electronics, tempting listeners with the kind of synthetic soundscapes so many folk artists are beginning to explore. Very trendy.
Listen on, however, and this promise quickly proves to be empty and unfulfilled. If anything, Kindly Now is confirmation that winy old Henson and his tormented soul are back again, just with more strings this time to really dampen the mood. No wonder it features as the soundtrack for a World War One Ballet – it is just as bleak.
Kindly Now is Henson’s expression of the crippling conflict that faces a musician longing for both solitude and support. His artistic persona has always been the painfully shy introvert who can barely bring himself to give an interview, and who limits his performance venues to dusty old chapels.
Vulnerability echoes out of whispered phrases, desperate pleading refrains, and deeply fraught lyrics, asking of his listeners both “Don’t forget me” and “Don’t make me go outside”. Adding to that, the album features a total of five (that’s right, five) piano ballads, all of which give the sensation of pressing an ear up to a bedroom door, invading his privacy just by listening.
Admittedly, there are glimpses of something a little more experimental. Henson’s widely praised instrumental project Romantic Works was a stunning demonstration of Classical composition. A number of tracks on Kindly Now are infused with the same musicality: ‘Holy Love’ authentically mimics an Afro-gospel chorus by using an interesting blend of solo vocal looping and rich harmony, whilst ‘Gabe’ features an unexpected brass melody.
Yet, whereas in the aftermath of debut album Dear Henson was spoken of in the same breath as Jeff Buckley, Kindly Now has failed to excite the same level of intrigue.
What was once enchanting has become wearisome and lost its charm. Moments along the way are both genuinely touching and creatively engaging. They are not enough to prop up this young man’s creaking old house of an album.