One Double Doozie and a Coke, Please.
For those in the reading populous who fall into the jam band fan category, Lo Faber should be a rather recognizable name. Faber, you may recall, was a member of God Street Wine, a band that released a handful of albums on a couple of major labels during the ‘90s. However, after a year or so in limbo after Universal left the bang hanging somewhat and various money problems, God Street Wine called it a day and Lo Faber took to the solo route.
After six months of extensive recording, Faber released Henry’s House last year. A big, two disc concept album, Henry’s House was written up with such praises as “Harry Potter meets the Who” in trades like the Village Voice. Indeed, Henry, the focus point of the story, comes equipped with magical powers that he is unaware of. As with many ambitious concept albums, Henry’s House needs a bit of explaining to grasp what is going on in the story line.
Basically, the story finds hero Henry being whisked out of his hometown (kingdom?) when the evil Demon Volcano Boy threatens to destroy everything in his wake. Henry, along with a group of other kids is packed into a VW Bus driven by a hippie-ish type named Davie. After escaping from the valley, Henry and the kids are deposited at an old house owned by Henry’s parents that is now inhabited by a supposed with named Teacher Tess. Tess gives Henry a bell which helps to awaken his magical powers, but before one can blink, the kids and Henry are kidnapped by Bubsy Beals and his friend Crafty Foxx.
Luckily, Little Jack, one of the children who escaped the kidnapping saves the day by rescuing the other kids, including Serafina who manages to wake Henry up from a trance with a kiss. The whole gang then realizes it is up to them to save the village from Volcano Boy and so they head back and do just that. Obviously, something like this does indeed take two discs to cover. Henry’s House was inspired by Faber’s daughter Millicent. This may explain the whole childlike fairy tale that comprises the story. Will one have to be a fan of jam bands and concept albums to get the most out of this work? Possibly, though Faber has a knack for venturing into other melodical areas that other jam bands don’t often tread near. Faber lists Frank Zappa and Steely Dan among his greatest influences, and there are at times when the music on this album resembles the sounds of Apostrophe with the smooth fluidity of an album like Gaucho thrown in. Faber’s band is undeniably talented and features three ex-members of the Ominous Seapods (Tom Pirozzi on bass, Todd Pasternack on guitar, and Ted Marotta on drums). Also on board is Angela Ford, an opera soprano.
For the most part, the band whips up a nice sounding piece of music here, though at times things venture over the line. Bits like the instrumental “Riding North in a VW Bus” can sometimes wax for a little too long on the jam band side of the picture, while the chorus of “Volcano Boy” sounds a bit cheesy in spots - especially when handled by a full blown chorus. But perhaps these are elements that are to be expected in an album such as this.
Henry’s House includes its share of lyrics, as well. Many of the songs are broken down into sung parts between various characters, so that the whole word tends to take on air of something like Chess (the American versus Russian chess tournament/love triangle rock “opera” that spawned the hit “One Night In Bangkok”) more than it does the Who’s Tommy. A libretto is enclosed and is filled with colorful pictures of the characters. The whole album is packaged very nicely and certainly looks like something that would appeal to younger audiences.
Undoubtedly, Henry’s House is an album that one must sit down and listen to. Even though a statement inside the album says that the songs can be enjoyed individually, when taken out of their context, they don’t seem to work as well. Unfortunately, that causes this album to be one you might not get around to listening to very often. There are some great tunes here, such as “Tess, You Should’na Done Me Wrong”, “Crafty Fox’s Super Song and Dance”, and “Sardines”. It would seem though that this whole album could have worked just as well if it were a single disc. But maybe not.
Concept albums are often tough to break down. Are they too short? Are they too long? Do they make any sense? Do they bear repeated listens? For Henry’s House, most of these questions could be answered both with a yes and no. For fans of Faber, there will probably be much to enjoy here. The music is well written, the story enjoyable enough for almost any age, and the production shines throughout. However, for those just wanting a quick something to listen that require little concentration and/or time, Henry’s House might be something to pass over. If PopMatters were still rating album on a numerical scale, I’d give this one a 3 out of 5, simply because there seem to be an even number of pros and cons here. Ultimately, it’s your call. Henry’s House is certainly worth one good listen through.