There is music made through ornate and complex arrangements of instruments, albums woven from many sonic strands, all having a place in the musical register, a specific sound and dynamic, a role to play and a job to do. And then there is music which is created with only a few instruments, where the sounds are created by pushing those instruments, and the players behind them, to explore new territory or at least push up against the borders of expectation. Through A Painted Veil is definitely in the latter category.
Using mainly dexterously picked guitar and a worldly and wise vocal treatment, Henderson is the master of creating the most captivating of sonic designs from only a few musical hues.
The starting point is his guitar style which owes something to the likes of John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Bert Jansch et al, a combination of deft and delicate cascades and more confident riffs and themes and from this, he builds his musical landscape. To that, there is the occasional beat, perhaps layered additions and the occasional wash of string sounds or orchestral inclusion but for the most part, it is a man and a guitar, if that is not to undersell the whole affair.
Because it is a glorious sound, folky and fast, graceful and groovesome, ornate and accessible, a wealth of contradictions and compliments, opposites that attract…and more.
Opening with the title track, the scene is set, a combination of 60’s coffee-shop folk revivalist and modern-day troubadour, layers of picked strings cutting and crossing each other, hanging cheek-by-jowl and creating gloriously beguiling tones and textures. Henderson’s voice really comes into its own on Thus Spake Zarathustra, where his already gentle voice drops down into a conversational hush, a whisper in the listener’s ear as the song is dressed in even more additional musical layers than usual.
Ollies Lament is direct and dexterous, Dreams of Land’s End is suitably cinematic and lullabyish, Forever Loops Past Trees is upbeat and strident even when dressed with lush vocal harmonies (which remind me of the Rice/Hannigan dynamic…nice) and chiming charm and Aphorisms On Love sits between indie-folk and a sort of ambient-alt-dance, less and more, past and present.
It’s a gorgeous album, one that reminds us that music used sparingly is more powerful, more creative, more constructive, and more impactful than any attempt to turn heads through volume and weight.