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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Philip G.W. Henderson - The Magic Wood / The Hop-Pickers Daughter

Philip G.W. Henderson - The Magic Wood / The Hop-Picker's Daughter
2010, Philip G W Henderson

Philip G.W. Henderson is a composer, musician and lyricist originally from Linford, Essex, England.  Henderson started his professional career in music as a member of the band of the Grenadier Guards in 1963, and by 1968 he had his first song recorded by Parlophone Records.  Over the years Henderson has written for radio, film and the stage.  His resumes includes professional collaborations with Dr. Robert Moog, Steve Hackett (Genesis), The Heather Brothers and the City of London Sinfonia.  Henderson also spends time playing keyboards for Boys Off The Bench, which features his sons Luke (vocals) and Adam (drums).  Presently, Henderson is working on a film score for Phone Thief, and working on a series of compositions entitled The Counties Quartets.  Henderson recently released The Magic Wood/The Hop Picker's Daughter, the latter of which is the first of these quartets. 

The Magic Wood is a series of musical paintings, bringing to life the sounds and color of Henderson's wooded creation.  "By Day" features undulating strings and a musical heartbeat.  It is a representation of life and liveliness that runs through a cycle of dissonance and angst while life travels merrily on in the melody line.  There is a cyclic nature here that seems apropos but also may feel like Henderson is a bit stuck at times.  The sound on the recording is good, but the violins get tinny at times, an issue that recurs throughout the album.  "By Night" has Pizzicato, clockwork, as if marking the passage of time until the dawn.  There is a continuity born from "By Day", with furtive and lyric movement suggested in the occasional breakout.  There is a distinctive energy to the piece; a pertness, if you will, as well as a sense of distant beauty in the complications of melody and the incessant passage of time.

"Dream Dance" has a certain darkness and beauty to it, but sounds incomplete as presented.  It's as if Henderson decided to leave out part of the musical palette; a necessity perhaps when working with a small ensemble, but there is more depth here that is simply not explored.  The shrillness of the violins is also something of a distraction, but as a whole there is great potential here.  "Song Of The Trees" finds Henderson returning to the undulating feel of trees in a breeze once again.  It's a pretty, quiet dance performed in darkness and shadow with two counter themes.  Henderson uses the bass to instill an incessant and driving series of riffs that stir the listener, while the violin dances a co-melody that floats over it all.  The Magic Wood concludes with "After Rainfall", a brief musical watercolor filled with Pizzicato droplets as the life of The Magic Wood resumes anew.

The Hop-Picker's Daughter opens with a movement of the same name.  There is a simplistic, choppy feel to this composition, which seems written more to a pops sensibility than anything else.  Henderson is repetitive here, getting stuck in a rut that fails to transport the listener.  "The Vine-Puller's Son" opens with a more Baroque born of a Viennese aesthetic.  The sound is top-heavy and tinny at times, but this is the best pure composition on the album.  The Hop-Picker's Daughter closes with "The Tally-Man!” dealing in vaguely Slavic sonic influences in an energetic celebration punctuated by contemplative, lyric passages.  The composition is beautiful in its pure joy, although once again there is a lack of sonic completeness that is only partly due to the small ensemble.

Philip G.W. Henderson seems to experiment a great deal with sonic space on The Magic Wood/The Hop-Picker's Daughter, relying on bright, airy sounds to fill up the ears.  The difficulty on the recording is that more often than not the violin is tinny, and occasionally painful.  One suspects that a recording made by live musicians would fare much better.  The enforced nuances of computerized stringed instruments just cannot compare to the depth of emotion and dynamic variation that can be created by human musicians.  Compositionally, Henderson has created some very interesting work in both The Magic Wood and The Hop-Picker's Daughter, although there are definite moments where sonic balance is lost.

Rating: 3 Stars (Out of 5)

Learn more at, where you can purchase the album as a download or on CD-R.   

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