We were introduced to the Henningsens in May 2013 when they released their self-titled 4 track EP including ‘American Beautiful’ which was received favourably and managed to hit the top 30 on the US country chart.
An appearance at the Grand Ole Opry and a support slot on a Brad Paisley tour signalled a very promising future but it all seemed to fizzle out. The album that was due to follow didn’t materialise and they left Sony Nashville in August 2015. Thankfully the album that we were promised in 2013 has now arrived.
They have an interesting background. Mum and Dad, 10 kids. Farm in Illinois. Dad, eldest son and eldest daughter team up to write and perform. That in a nutshell is it but you can bet there have been twists and turns along the way.
Dad is Brian Henningsen who had been playing in bands throughout the 1980’s and has split his time between his farming commitments and his musical interests. He admits that the farming commitments are very dear to his heart and have been prioritised. The family and their heritage always comes first. Son is Aaron and daughter is Clara Henningsen.
It all started for the family group back in 2008 when they first became noted as songwriters. The Band Perry’s output has been somewhat mixed but the Henningsens were responsible for two of their high spots. ‘You Lie’ and ‘All Your Life’. Most of the Band Perry’s album ‘Pioneer’ and tracks for Wynona Judd, Sara Evans and Billy Currington followed.
Word was getting around but it was the suggestion of producer Paul Worley, who had worked with Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum, that they perform their own songs. Worley has been involved in production duties on this album and the Lady A comparison will inevitably be made.
He appears to have emphasised the female vocal lead giving Clara centre stage on the majority of the songs on offer, keeping the male vocal harmonies lower in the mix.
That’s not devaluing the contribution of Brian or Aaron who sing lead on ‘Hank (Rolling In My Grave)’ and ‘Country Cool’ respectively and they do so very well.
The former might be the one that will define them and their song writing prowess. “I met the ghost of Hank Williams this morning”. The song that follows can potentially be interpreted as their take on the current state of country music. “Don’t you ever be ashamed of the lonesome song, Three chords and the truth”. Nice words and a very interesting composition. Are we returning to the days when a country song was written with the intention of inspiring the listener to embrace the lyrics?
The strength of the album is in the songs. Take for example ‘Airstreamin’ that starts off with a fairly predictable guitar introduction but then soars into a wonderful sing-along joy that is dominated by Clara’s stunning voice. This girl can sing. She could very easily cut it as a solo artist.
The press releases state that there is a heartland theme that runs through the album and we guess it would have been easy, but lazy, for a band that is raised on a farm to be singing about dirt roads and tractors. Thankfully this is left alone, but that’s not to say that they are not immensely proud of their roots. ‘Why I Farm’ relates to the fact that farming is their way of life and they relish the contributions that they make working the land but clichés are not to be heard here.
It will be interesting to see which of the 14 tracks on offer will be pushed as a single. The obvious choice could be ‘Sugar Rush’, a bouncy, radio-friendly, harmonious, guitar-driven song that may require a couple of plays before it hits home.
Personal favourite however has to be the haunting title track ‘Worlds On Fire’ which has a Dixie Chicks quality to it. This is the track that totally emphasises Clara’s pure vocal talents and the production is top draw.
This album is the real deal. The fact that they perform as a family will ensure interest but this will only take them so far. Aaron’s quote is significant – “people would tell us that we sounded good together and we were sort of like, okay we will keep going”. We don’t know who those people were but they obviously heard what we hear.
This is a band that has not made compromises to fit the norm. They have been true to their roots and the songs on offer reflect that.
Will it sell? Time will tell, and the lack of major label involvement might hold it back. We get the impression however that they are the type of family who put this sort of thing a little down their list of priorities.
They have not pitched this album towards mainstream country radio and it may need the word of mouth buzz to bring this band to the forefront.
They sing real songs about real life and deserve a shot at the big time. Let’s try and give them that shot in the right direction.