Henry Darragh: Tell Her For Me (2009)
By any standardno pun intended"Everything Happens To Me" is a terrific song. It has clever lyrics and a catchy melody, and when both are put together each enhances the other. Henry Darragh's version on his debut, Tell Her For Me, is a reminder of this fact; no one writes songs this great anymore.
Darragh is a singer/songwriter with the same vulnerable tenderness in his voice as Chet Baker. He can earnestly croon songs of love gained, love longed for, and love lost as well as anyone else out there, and he clearly loves singing the great songs from the early twentieth century. However, he is also more ambitious than most of those who work in the same vein. He writes quite a few of his own songs and, while it would be easy to play it safe and record an album of standards to make his name, over half of the tracks are originals. He has a fine sense of craftsmanship; everything here is ultra-cool and has a breezy effortlessness about it.
The one problem with recording your own material and putting it next to classics from the golden era of song is it exposes your weaknesses as a writer. Darragh can write a good melody, but he is more Norah Jones than Johnny Mercer. He hasn't quite mastered the ability to match lyrics rhythmically to melodies, resulting in some awkward phrasing. "I didn't ask her name. Nervous was I, too afraid" is a good example of a slightly clumsy lyric that would have worked much better in the context had it been changed to "I was nervous, too afraid," placing the emphasis where it should be in the line.
To be fair, Darragh would probably never put himself in a category with the greats, and his songs are pleasant excursions that are mostly catchy and improve on each listen. He has chosen reliable accompaniment in the form of tenor saxophonist Seth Paynter, trumpeter Carol Morgan and guitarist Erin Wright, to take solos that push the album more in the direction of jazz rather than torch singing. Darragh also plays trombone (among other things) and adds that instrument on the piano-free "Early," another original.
In the end, Tell Her For Me, centered on the concept of love, is a labor of love that has paid off. It's a pleasant debut that many who are looking for a pleasant vocal romp with a jazz edge will find appealing. If this is any indication his next record promises to be even better.
Track Listing: Hey There; Regret; Everything Happens To Me; Once In A While; Early; Dream Boxes; Missing You; Tell Her For Me; Wrong Ending; Look For the Silver Lining; The Harvard Dictionary of Music Song.
Personnel: Henry Darragh: vocal, piano, trombone; Seth Paynter: tenor saxophone; Carol Morgan: trumpet; Erin Wright: guitar; Glen Ackerman: bass; Chuck Payne: drums.