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The Henry GirlsThe Henry Girls
Album: Far Beyond The Stars
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 13
Website: http://www.thehenrygirls.com

I've said it before (when I reviewed the Henry Girls' album Louder than Words back in 2014), and I may as well say it again just to eliminate any possible confusion - the three Donegal sisters Karen, Lorna and Joleen McLaughlin take their group name from their grandfather. Although they've built a really healthy reputation over the past 14 years, their name has (inexplicably) still not penetrated far beyond a circle of connoisseurs of their charming and seriously accomplished brand of Celtic Americana.

Far Beyond The Stars is listed as the Henry Girls' sixth album (tho' I only know of four plus an EP); it continues to find the sisters ploughing their distinctive furrow with their trademark irresistible energy, superb close harmony vocals and highly capable instrumental chops. Like the girls' preceding EP Sketch, released last year, Far beyond The Stars was produced by Calum Malcolm, and three of the EP's four tracks reappear on the current album without in any way detracting from the brand new recordings or seeming at all out of place in their company. The three EP tracks are in themselves suitably varied, from the reassuring waltzer Slow Down to the feistier Don't Call Me Honey and the swing-inflected uke-led Falling In Love Again. The Andrews Sisters vibe is revisited at the close of the disc with the infectious I'm Your Baby (complete with a gorgeous twin-fiddle break midway and some perfect instrumental filling). Returning immediately to the opening of the album, the tough Oh Why is probably the most desperately driven number, and there couldn't be more of a contrast with the second track, A Friend Like You, which is one of those classic relationship numbers that I could swear I've known forever almost, that sticks in the mind long after it's ended. Down By The River is a reassuring gospel-tinged anthem taken at a naturally unhurried pace, while Rebel Girl (penned by famed labour activist Joe Hill) is propelled along with a fetching fleetness of foot.

There's also a couple of songs that form a departure from the usual Henry Girls repertoire: Ocean Of War is the girls' response to the refugee crisis, a plaintive lilt indeed, while Far Beyond The Stars is a heavenly two-and-a-half-minute a cappella flight of fantasy that would qualify as a disc highlight were it not for the excess of added sustain/reverb given to the voices (rather unnecessarily, to my ears). The penultimate track turns out to be a version of Satisfied Mind - a song often covered on the country and roots scene, and the girls' take is one of the best, but here for some reason it's been (mis-) credited to Porter Wagoner, who had a hit with it, sure, but didn't write it!…

The girls' tremendously assured musicianship on a healthy variety of instruments (banjo, fiddle, accordion, harp, ukulele, piano) is neatly complemented by reliable guest musicians Ted Ponsonby (guitar, dobro), Liam Bradley (drums), Dave Redmond or Nicky Scott (bass) and Denise Boyle (mandolin, viola, fiddle). And Calum Malcolm's skilful production enables clear definition and pinpointing of individual comparatively delicate colours (like Joleen's harp) within the texture. All of which elements combine to make Far Beyond The Stars certainly one of the girls' finest collections to date.

David Kidman