All content copyright © Roll Publishing, Inc

Visit us on the web at

Roll the Music
< back

Humanist Movement - Kurt Henry Band: From Our Religions We’ll Be Freeby Gregory Schoenfeld

Now Art…is the mediatress between, and reconciler of nature and man. It is, therefore, the power of humanizing nature, of infusing the thoughts and passions of man into everything which is the object of his contemplation; color, form, motion, and sound, are the elements which it combines, and it stamps them into unity in the mould of a moral idea.

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge, On Poesy or Art ,1818

When a young Brooklyn, New York singer-songwriter named Kurt Henry first took the stage at Greenwich Village’s Gaslight in 1968, there was indeed something special in the air: possibility. The possibility of love. The possibility of peace. The promise of humanity.

Quite some time, and foundered idealism, has passed between then and now. Ask yourself, if you haven’t already: what is it about music that imbues it with the power to continually inspire, withstanding the inscrutable nature of reality? Is it, as many have proffered, the indomitable voice of the heavens?

Kurt Henry, now a time-tested music veteran, a multi-faceted guitar virtuoso, and a passionate literary scholar to boot, might tell you to stop casting your eyes skyward, and get yourself a mirror—and it seems that Coleridge, one of Henry’s deepest inspirations, would agree. The moral, Henry asserts, lies within rather than without.

On the newest offering from the Kurt Henry Band, From Our Religions We’ll Be Free, Henry engineers his most compelling and far-reaching testimony to date. Much like the message it delivers, the music cuts a wide swath: whimsy and pain, dalliance and heartbreak, frustration and bliss. Henry puts his adroit band through its musical paces, traveling through a range of genres and dynamics from straight-ahead roots folk to progressive jazz. Still, there is an upwelling of raw veracity that binds this collection of songs into a true album, undeniably steeped in the 60s themselves. Not in pursuit of idealism, however, says Henry—rather, in celebration of the romantic, the human aspect that the era exemplified. “It’s about my romanticism of the period—in fact, I believe the 60s rediscovered the romantics,” offers Henry, a fanatical student of 18th and 19th century Romantic poetry. “People really did try, and I remain touched by that.”

At the core of this outing’s success, fittingly, is the more-than-capable group of human beings Henry has assembled. This is the thirdconsecutive recording that features the locked-down rhythm section of Alan Groth on bass and Eric Parker on drums. Henry and Groth first joined forces in the 70s, playing together in the celebrated New Paltz band, The Womblers, and their deep connection in the interplay of the band is evident. The addition of the tempered, driving drumming of Parker, whose resume includes work with the likes of Steve Winwood and Joe Cocker, made this a truly complete unit. Rounding out the troupe are the harmonies of Cheryl Lambert, Henry’s wife and constant singing partner. Always true to theme, Henry encourages a freely collaborative creative environment—one which consistently pays dividends in the lush layers of sound that end up in the studio. Parker also takes production credits for this record, as he did on 2008’s Heart, Mind and All, both albums recorded at Mark Dann’s Woodstock studio. The result is a cohesive, almost unconscious melding of minds that suffuses the album’s journey. “You know what’s funny?” says Henry with a smile, “to be honest, we really like each other. We play for the playing.”

Blending seamlessly with this insular gathering are the keyboards of Ross Rice, whose rich Hammond organ enjoys a featured role in the production alongside Henry’s guitar. As a final dish to this banquet (and providing yet another “Summer of Love” reference), Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian strolls in and contributes his signature harmonica to three of the tracks. The end result is an engaging musical concoction, one that demands attention.

All in all, however, the voyage of Religions begins and ends with Henry’s lyrics and arrangements. Echoing the assertions of Coleridge, who is honored in the album’s hauntingly lyrical final track, “Frost at Midnight”, Henry pleads with the listener to take stock of the genuine power of the human heart and mind.

It is the variety of vehicles that Henry employs that makes this record both an entertaining and thought-provoking encounter. A telling example is the progressive-rock deftness and multiple time signatures of the rollicking “Julia in Running Shoes”, inviting an intimate look into the invigorating playfulness of romance. This is followed immediately by the despondent heartache, punctuated by Sebastian’s dolefully emotive harp, of “Julia Left”. “Mind Your Business”, perhaps the record’s most powerful track, features Rice’s resplendent Hammond going bar-for-bar with Henry’s guitar in a classic-rock-inspired jam that harkens to Winwood’s Traffic. Let the CD continue, and you’ll next arrive at “Red Meat Aggression Monkeys,” a good-old, pre-Dylan-at-Newport folk bust-up, one that carries the brutally honest humor of Phil Ochs in its verses.

Henry provides a clear path to his message, and the band’s range, in the opening title track, “From Our Religions We’ll Be Free”. Combining crisp interpretative jazz phrases reminiscent of the late Michael Brecker, and the earnest call for unity and peace that would have been right at home on the stage at Woodstock, Henry makes his appeal for reason over doctrine. “Strip off all of our illusions/and what’s left is harmony”, Henry entreats his fellow humans. “You cannot encapsulate the whole of reality with a narrow scope,” an impassioned Henry adds. We have to think for ourselves, our own true morals. To look to ancient morality to solve common problems just doesn’t make sense.”

The Kurt Henry Band From Our Religions We’ll Be Free CD release party is Sunday May 1, at the High Falls Café, Rte. 213 and Mohonk Rd., High Falls, 845.687.2699. Vist for more info.

Roll magazine -