oel T. Henderson combines folk, country, blues, gospel, and classic pop with equal reverence, but his music is distinguished by “deceptively simple” song craft that suggests a noble intent to update the American standard. Henderson melds timeless melodies with deeply true-to-self, yet universally relatable, lyrics. Jeffrey Lee Puckett of Louisville’s Courier-Journal described Henderson’s work as “the kind of observational songwriting that only sounds this easy when done at a high level.”
Henderson’s life experience has provided a deep well to draw from. Through frequent childhood family disruptions in Atlanta and Chicago, then moves to small Indiana college towns, and finally landing in Louisville, Kentucky, coming of age in America’s Heartland has had a profound influence. Henderson explains, “I was born in the south and raised in the north, but it took the last decade or so in the ‘middle’ for me to understand the things I went through. I guess I’m still trying to make sense of it all, but certainly time and space has influenced my interpretation of those experiences in a way that seems to resonate.”
The influence is hard to miss in Henderson’s 2012 release Locked Doors & Pretty Fences. On the overall theme, Henderson describes, “It’s about the barriers along the path to maturity. Sometimes the obstacles are obvious, sometimes they’re not. If we’re really honest with ourselves, they’re usually self-created out of fear or complacency.” From the first verse of the opening track about relationships squandered, debts owed, and expectations unmet, to the record’s final track, a short song about a trepidatious peek at life beyond our self-made barriers, Henderson’s voice is at once an honest, sometimes raw, but ever hopeful examination of growing up. The Boston Globe called the Paul Mahern-produced project a “required relationship album.” Rebecca Hosking of Skope Magazine said, “Joel Henderson’s latest release…is as refreshing as a warm spring day. His voice is captivating and has the power to smooth out any rough edges life can sometimes inflict. It is a journey through dreamy passages that leave you awestruck from its beauty.” Cincinnati’s CityBeat called Locked Doors & Pretty Fences “a clinic in soulful heartland Folk/Pop songwriting…with beautiful melodies, thoughtfully reflective lyrics and powerfully effective arrangements.”
To support Henderson’s sophisticated craftsmanship, producer Paul Mahern enlisted an enviable studio line-up. The roster of talented players includes bassists Byron House (Robert Plant’s Band of Joy) and Scott Kellogg, guitarists Jason Wilber (John Prine), Ric Hordinski (Daniel Martin Moore) and David England, drummers Devon Ashley (The Lemonheads) and Jake Burton, and the multi-talented vocalist Heidi Gluck (Some Girls). Additional performances by Bill Mallers on Hammond B3, Fender Rhodes and piano, as well as Mick Sullivan’s banjo work, add to the album’s rich instrumentation. Recorded at White Arc Studios in Bloomington, Indiana, Locked Doors & Pretty Fences captures shades of heartland heroes like John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, and James McMurtry, but Henderson’s tunes are also right at home on a playlist of contemporaries like Ryan Adams, Justin Townes Earle, and Jason Isbell.
Henderson has shared stages with acts like country music star Toby Keith and Grammy-nominated Americana songstress Kim Richey, and has provided tour support for the incomparable and exquisite Over the Rhine. He is currently working on several follow up projects due in 2013. - Susan Price