This album is like a musical box of liquorice all-sorts. If you like liquorice, it’s got everything you need and you’ll devour it. If you’re not a liquorice fan, it’ll take a bit of chewing, and might leave a bitter taste.
Why so? Well, this album is all about Cory Henry’s favourite instrument, the Hammond B-3 organ. And I mean, really all about it. The aphorism “too much of a good thing” is relevant when listening to The Revival, the first of two albums Henry is releasing this year on Ground Up records.
Henry - one of the keyboardists in Snarky Puppy - started playing the Hammond B-3 organ at age two, and The Revival is his homage to that instrument which has served him well. Described by his Snarky Puppy band-mate Michael League as a “master class for the organ”, that’s certainly true when you listen to all eleven tracks, recorded live in his native Brooklyn. But that’s not sufficient to make a great album.
There is a feel of the evangelical revivalist sound in the first two tracks - Lord’s Prayer and He Has Made Me Glad - which are lacking only the whoops and “amens” of a crowd that’s feeling the spirit. With hints of the audience clapping in the background, Cory’s spirited playing is clearly capable of getting a crowd on its feet and swaying along to the happy energy pulsing out of the organ.
The Hammond is an instrument capable of demonstrating tremendous personality and feeling, as it does in Henry’s hands on third track Precious Lord, where the chords fairly burst out of the speakers and wobble and pulse in that distinctive Hammond way. The sense of this being a service as much as a concert is evident when Henry’s godfather, Bishop Jeffrey White, delivers a stunning vocal performance on fourth track Old Rugged Cross. I certainly felt the spirit a-rising.
Thereafter, it’s more Hammond organ all the way, with the intermittent backing of drummer James Williams, across a range of tunes that do, indeed, show off both Henry’s keyboard mastery and the power of the Hammond organ as a one-man orchestra.
NaaNaaNaa is all audience call-and-response, Henry getting the audience to sing nonsense sounds like five-year olds to banish the blues. That Is Why I Am Happy is up-beat, with a Blackpool end-of-the-pier cheerfulness, while Henry’s interpretation of John Coltrane’s Giant Steps on track eight provides a welcome jazz interlude into what, up to that point, was verging on a soundtrack from Songs of Praise.
All In Love Is Fair is a loping, bluesy ballad which tugs at the heart strings and punches the ears at the same time, while Henry's version of McCartney’s Yesterday is unrecognisable from the original, if nonetheless inventive in its approach.
This is a joyful album and, in Henry’s monumentally talented hands, the Hammond Organ is given a strong voice demanding to be heard. But, unless you’re really into this sound, it’s a challenging listen.
Don’t get me wrong. I like the Hammond organ. In small portions, however, rather than the two pounds of Hammond organ chuck steak served up on this album, without any side vegetables or condiments. It’s pretty intense meat.
It took this reviewer a lot of chewing to finish The Revival and I was still left feeling hungry. Laudable though it is for Henry to show off the organ alone in all it’s glory, it doesn’t necessarily make for a great album. However, if you love the Hammond organ and want to experience the “up” sounds of gospel, R&B and Soul shot through through this most charismatic of instruments, this is definitely your album.
I await with interest Henry’s other new album, The Funk Apostles, which I think should be more easily digested.