Album Review: Henry Wagons - Expecting Company
By: Stormy Lewis
Illness and injury can be a blessing for musicians, breaking them out of a dry spell or giving them a chance to make music they would not have otherwise had the chance to find. Both Jimmie Rodgers and Johnny Cash spent dying hours recording songs infused with a greater level of pain and resonance. Less ghastly, Ryan Adam’s inner ear disorder forced him to relearn music and gave him the perspective to record one of his most concise and eloquent albums to date. More recently, the Australian band Wagons lead singer Henry Wagons found himself with an injured hand and a bad fever. The result was seven songs that became his debut solo album Expecting Company. A few calls to a few friends later, and Wagons release a stunning collection of duets that conjured up the best of old school Country duets with a modern, rough combination of Western, Punk and Blues. The whole thing is a darkly effective and beautiful masterpiece.
Expecting Company stars blasts out of the gate with a duet featuring Alison Mosshart, best known for her blue-rock power vocals for The Dead Weather and The Kills. “Unwelcome Company” is a dark ballad that finds Mosshart's growling wail fusing perfectly with Wagon’s gravelly baritone. “I’m In Love with Mary Magdalene” starts with a georgous Gregorian styled chant before breaking out into a Sergio Leone stand off between a man and the woman he knows will be his doom. Sophia Brous offers some teasing, howling vocals, teasing with pleas for salvation and taunting with sexual offers. Wagons sounds remarkably like a 1970’s era combination of Merle Haggard and David Allen Coe on “Give Things a Chance to Mend” accompanied by Canadian pop singer Jenn Grant, who pulls off a vocal remarkably close to Jeanne Pruitt. The song is a plain spoken, straight forward Traditional Country ballad and it is a damned good one. “I Still Can’t Find Her” is close to a traditional country waltz, with a bite and a heavy guitar riff that creates a almost literal edge to the song. “Blow the dust off the family tree,” Wagons challenges, on the opening line. He and Robert Forester, co-founder of The Go Betweens, continue though a litany of filial issues with commitment with “my mother’s cousin Deborah cheated on her husband Wayne, Wayne’s photo’s been replaced by Bill, that seems a little harsh to me.” Patience Hodgson of The Grates lends an otherworldly presence to the darkly hilarious “A Hangman’s Work is Never Done.” The song is a harsh, clashing almost cacophonous melody, and Hodgson’s polished vocals smooth out some of the rougher edges. “Its our final roll of the dice and we’ve landed on goddam snake eyes,” Wagons belts on “Give Me A Kiss.” Gossling (Helen Crome) provides a deliciously sardonic little girl vocal that underscores the casual cruelty and dark wit of the song. “Marylou Two” closes out the album with a taste of Wagon’s band album Rumble, Shake and Tumble, reprising Wagons’ clean, country voice it all its heart breaking glory.
Expecting Company is a delicious duets album that will feed a craving for fans of George and Tammy and Conway and Loretta. Wagons shows a remarkable penchant for matching guest voices and moods to lyrics. The result is a moody and atmospheric album that never loses it wit or emotion. Sailing along on the partnership between Wagon’s expressive baritone and some of the most haunting voices in indie music today, Expecting Company is a triumph of teamwork and music making. Expecting company of one of the most exciting and elegant albums of the year.