Singer/songwriter/pianist living in New York City, Brian Michael Henry, mostly works as an actor in musical theater, most recently portraying Jerry Lee Lewis in various productions and tours of the rock musical Million Dollar Quartet. Henry studied opera/classical music in undergrad and graduate school and has been writing songs privately for years –Remote Work is his first public release. All the music and lyrics were written in the fall of 2020 in his apartment in Inwood, Manhattan and each song is loosely inspired by a different documentary he watched in quarantine (more details later). The vocals, backing vocals, piano and keyboards were done using Logic. Tracks were sent to Henry’s buddy and colleague Colin Summers (of Scrawnyman) in Brooklyn, and he added guitar, bass and drum programming on most of the tracks. The album was mixed and mastered by Eclipse Mixing/Mastering. Being a huge fan of many musical styles and ’80s pop, Henry’s work is inspired by artists such as The Ronettes, The Crystals, Lou Reed, Jim Steinman, Warren Zevon, Anohni, Suicide and Elton John.
“Lucky Days” starts thing off with a chill alternative sound, Wurlitzer keys, echoing old style twangy guitar and a deep baritone by Henry. Next up is “Ruth” and it’s a song about Ruth Madoff, widow of convicted American financial charlatan, Bernie Madoff. Henry’s style is very ‘80s pop, techno even, but with a soft ballad-like quality about it. Something akin to Howard Jones. “Where’s Shelley?” begins with a short ‘Here Comes the Bride’ jingle that makes me think this tune is about a certain bride that left her soon-to-be husband high and dry? However, as the artist points out, this one may or may not have something to do with a famous sitcom actress speaking out against a certain religious group, (but he cannot confirm nor deny that that is what the song is about). Great sounding power chords come in, complete with classic '80s synth and drums. Henry really taps into all things ‘80s with this number, I mean – I thought I was hearing something from an ‘80s movie soundtrack. Spot on! It you’re familiar with cults, particularly religious cults, “Heaven’s Gate” is about just that. There’s an interesting mix of instruments here – bass cello and other strings, layered key/synths and a fantastic melody, although it does have a sadness about it. The way Henry sang this one and wrote it reminds me of Depeche Mode. “No Fun!” switches grooves with a fun beat and classic early ‘80s synths. Lyrically, this one’s about recovery from drug addiction.
Moving on is “Supply + Demand” and this one features a unique electric beat with different drum programming and what sounds like a mix of castanets and dry electronic snares. “Never Look Back” features several other players helping – Luke Darnell on additional guitar, bass and mandolin, Lake Wilburn on backing vocals, Sarah Holgate on piano, and Jamie Pittle on drums. Each one of these artists contributed remotely, as the pandemic prevented the group from playing together. It begins with a Queen-like guitar intro and overall, the song has a very theatrical appeal, something that reminds me of Meatloaf (aka Marvin Lee Aday). “Sea Song” is clearly the ballad on the album, and it features a great melody on the piano. Strings are added and a mandolin by Luke Darnell. Colin Summers also contributes. This tune with its accordion, piano and mandolin really harkens back to Billy Joel’s first few albums. "Wild Country" is about Ma Anand Sheela leaving Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh in Waco, Oregon and it you have not seen this documentary – it’s mesmerizing. Henry taps into the Spector’s “wall of sound” from classic, ‘60s do-wop, but he also brings in modern sounds and puts in added bells and a piano/solo guitar pairing.
Technically, I thought some of the songs ended too abruptly and perhaps should have been faded out instead. All in all, Remote Work has some pretty good highlights and writing songs based on documentaries is an interesting concept.
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