By Henry Crew
Fully refreshed after a week in Malta I returned home to a veritable pile of new releases through the post. Such a heap of cds can sometimes be a bit daunting - where to start? - but after a week of sun-kissed walks, delicious restaurants, sightseeing buses, speedboats, horse and cart rides, lagoon swims and gaping in awe at my first Carravagio; I was itching to get started.
Henry Crew hails from Hampshire and along with his band, The Monarchy, studies at Guildford's Academy of Contemporary Music. His CD arrived complete with a handwritten note telling me this but beyond that I can't tell you any more about the chap. I didn't know what to expect but was instantly impressed by the fact Henry is putting out his own music and also by the professional standard of the sleeve art and general packaging. The cover shot is a photo of Henry's face below water: simple but effective. Would these first impressions extend beyond the visual though?
"Can You See Me?" opens the EP with tender guitars followed by Henry's vocals which have a certain pop sensibility but are let down only by a (slightly) laboured feel to the accompaniment. The song is solid enough although the bridge is predictable in the structured pop song sense. That said I've heard plenty worse on mainstream television talent shows where the "artist" has progressed to "entertain" the masses for another week so let's keep things in perspective: this is not bad music. It's music with a good idea at the heart of it all but slightly undeveloped production quality. Still though - I'm reminding myself as I write that this is debut release territory so again - a little perspective goes a long way.
"Feeling Wanted" has some really interesting elements to it that point to influences possibly along the lines of REM, The Faces, Paul Weller or even The Moody Blues. The keyboards (rhodes?) are really well positioned in the song but the levels, if just a fraction higher, would have given the tune a touch more of the vintage I think Henry was looking to achieve. The same could be said with the levels to the keyboards on the opening track too. Turn 'em and let 'em rip boys - they sound good enough to be louder!
The standout track here is "Careless and Free" which for me would have made a stronger opening track for the EP. It's this song where I felt I was possibly hearing the true sound of Henry when he plays with a band and I hope I'm right because it's here where he sounds like he's having the most fun too. There's some really nice effects on the guitars throughout (Henry is studying guitar at the Guildford ACM) and it's catchier than a seasonal sniffle which will no doubt get those giddy girls dancing at his forthcoming live dates. This is definitely the most complete song and will probably have the broadest appeal.
"Starts with Rain" owes more than a small debt of gratitude to U2's "With or without you" within the opening bars but rather than put me off entirely (well it would, wouldn't it?) I was happy with where the tune ventures from these (sinful) beginnings. I'm a sucker for strings and they are one of the finer developments on the track and the perfect backdrop for Henry's vocals. This is a great final track for a debut EP but my only criticism would be that it's too short. Seriously - this is a very, very beautiful song and I'd have been happy to hear another minute or two. If Henry reworks this when he has enough songs for an album that's what I'd do with it - with even fuller orchestration and an extra verse, this wouldn't be out of place in a soundtrack to a rom-com or indie flick.
Henry's vocals are the main strength in the four songs featured but in terms of musical identity, the overall stock is sometimes a little diluted. This is a pity but as first releases go, like a first attempt at creating a complicated dish, not unforgivable. The essence is definitely there and with time better results will come. If you've read my reviews you'll know I steer away from direct criticism: I write because I love music and like sharing what I find with people. I guess what I'm getting at here is that the feel of the songs meanders between pop and indie but without tracing either path their full course. There were points where I thought the songs would benefit either by being stripped back to their acoustic bones (think Jack Johnson) or fattened up with more arrangement and oomph (think Eli "Paperboy" Reed). If Henry pushes himself to define and refine his style then the results are waiting for him to discover his true sound and that, I predict, will be rather special.
So there you have it - an unsolicited treat through the letterbox, a new artist from a couple of hours away and four new songs now available to a wider audience. If you want to find out more about Henry Crew then you'll find him on the following links where you can also order a copy of "Below the Surface" direct from the man himself: