What do you get when you mix Nick Cave’s growling menace with Elvis Presley’s gold lamé swagger and then add in Lee Hazlewood’s twisted melodramas and a bit of Johnny Cash’s hangover blues? A man named Henry Wagons. There are few in Australia who can lay claim to outlaw country like Henry Wagons. Possessed of a voice as deep and dark as a moonless desert night, along with the knack for penning a lyric that sees the mundane everyday become somewhat mysterious and eerily ancient. [pullquote]Musician Justin Townes Earle has described Henry Wagons as being “like Dr Seuss meets Conway Twitty.”[/pullquote] After a decade and a half fronting the stage-shattering band which carries his surname, plus the release of a solo mini-album, a radio show and numerous television appearances, Mr Wagons has struck out on his own. The time was perfect to put his dream solo album together; a collection of songs that essentially charts Henry’s life from his rowdy misspent youth to being a tour-hardened troubadour and then a new father.
Wagons’ wickedly dark wit draws the listeners’ attention, and he certainly packs After What I Did Last Night… with entertaining tales of drunken bar fights, morning-after laments and strange encounters in Poland. The album, however, also is a uniquely personal work that tugs at your heartstrings, in its own ramshackle way.
The bleary-eyed country weeper “Cold Burger, Cold Fries” and the liquor-soaked “King Hit” gets the CD off to a rough-and-tumble start. Wagons intermingles colourful life-on-the-road misadventures “Head Or Heart” and “Cowboy In Krakow” with some heartfelt songs of love (“Anything You Want” and “Tomboy”) before he concludes with the tender “As Long As I Breathe” (a song about parenthood that recalls Elvis Costello’s balladry) and affectionate odes to family (“Only Child”) and his hometown (“Melbourne”).
After What I Did Last Night… is the realisation of a dream of Henry’s, to record in the home of Americana. To create this record, Henry left his homeland for Nashville, a place that he seemed destined for. “So many of my favourite albums have been made in Tennessee with sort of pick-up studio musicians,” Henry revealed. “And over my many years of going there I’ve gotten drunk enough at bars there to have met some great musicians. Basically, it was great to be able to rock up and do the same process as so many of my favourite albums, from Blonde on Blonde to Harvest.”
Enlisting “New Nashville” lynchpin producer Skylar Wilson (Justin Townes Earle, Caitlin Rose, Andrew Combs) to helm After What I Did Last Night…. With Wilson also providing some key piano playing, Wagons received added support from other regulars of Nashville’s vibrant Americana scene: lead guitarist Richie Kirkpatrick (Jessica Lea Mayfield, Langhorne Slim, Bobby Bare Jr.), drummer Jerry Pentecost (Jonny Fritz, Caitlin Rose), fiddler Josh Hedley (Justin Townes Earle, Jonny Fritz) and harmonica player Cory Younts (Old Crow Medicine Show) with buzzed-about singer/songwriter Rayland Baxter chipping in some backing vocals.
Henry found his time in Nashville to be a very exciting experience. “I’ve got the taste,” he says, adding: “Good burgers on tap, fine bourbons and American accents, Southern gentlemen, kind manners and long stories. I suspect I’ll be over to the States again to record one day soon.” As After What I Did Last Night… bears witness to the fact that Nashville certainly brings out the best in Henry Wagons.
There is little doubt that After What I Did Last Night… is a new chapter in the life of Australia’s ultimate outlaw countryman.
Henry Wagons ‘After What I Did Last Night….” Album Out February 12, 2016