It’s fiery, passionate, and captures the duality of life perfectly: Reese McHenry is old-school but modern; confident yet emotionally vulnerable; strong yet not afraid to admit she needs someone. Her album ‘No Dados’ captures all sides of the human experience, delivered by a woman who nearly had hers cut short.
Stream: ‘No Dados’ – Reese McHenry
Reese McHenry’s career has always been one of a small-town legend. With every musical incarnation she keeps her spot atop of the North Carolina music scene without ever quite grasping the national fame she deserves. Since the early days of garage rockers The Dirty Little Heaters, McHenry has blown people away with her powerful voice and fuck-you attitude. Released April 12, 2019 via Suah Sounds, No Dados — an album equal parts Joplin and Alabama Shakes — could finally make her as big as her voice.
And to think eleven years ago, a stroke took that voice away.
Three more strokes, an Atrial Fibrillation diagnosis, a half-dozen surgeries, a lost job, a lost home and a pacemaker later she’s back to wailing tongue-in-cheek, face-melting rockers about love, life, and the shit they both bring with them. Although her health concerns can be seen between the lines, its biggest impact is the freedom that comes from second chances to do what you love. And since recovering, McHenry’s wasted no time getting back to her true passion: Music.
She reunited The Dirty Little Heaters for some long-awaited shows, recorded 2014’s Tourist — an album that took her into the world of country music and ballads — under the name The Second Wife, collaborated with underground darlings Spider Bags on 2017’s Bad Girl, before returning to her roots as a blues-rock duo with a 2018 EP under the name Reese McHenry & The Fox.
That crazy creative output is the result of being bed-ridden with nothing to do but worry about if she was going to die. It was during this period of waiting for her husband to return home and help her to the washroom—because she was too weak to make it alone—that McHenry realized all she had was writing. And so she did. And on those days she was too weak to write, she whispered songs into her iPhone to have recordings to work with on her stronger days.
There’s no sign of weakness on No Dados.
It’s fiery, passionate, and captures the duality of life perfectly: She’s old-school but modern; confident yet emotionally vulnerable; strong yet not afraid to admit she needs someone. Its thirteen-songs showcase all sides of the human experience, delivered by a woman who nearly had hers cut short. Yet what makes it so intriguing is the small role her health plays in her lyrics. She’s back to full health and moved on with her life, taking her music with her. Don’t get me wrong, there’s allusions to her past scares (“You think that things can’t get worse but, I’m here to tell you that they can”, “I just want to lay in bed, till I feel like myself again”) but these are merely a part of her larger struggle. It has not defined her.
Instead, No Dados talks mostly about heartache and missing lovers. The blistering “Detroit” starts with her simply speaking about her lover leaving for the Motor City, before launching into a frenzied song about her traveling to Michigan and dragging him back. The intensity of her voice — not just huge but cracking with emotion — makes her words sound menacing, although at its root its a just desperate plea for how things used to be:
I mean it this time;
I’ll never make him sad again.
I’m going to Detroit,
To bring him back home.
Oh you know I’ve played this movie,
A thousand times in my mind.
I hope he comes home without a fight.
A similar theme is carried out on “Magnolia Tree,” where she speaks of her love for a man who is doing questionable things underneath the aforementioned tree. Pleas around the town about this beautiful man only return the same answer:
And so I asked my sister,
What do you know about him?
I asked my brother,
Hoping to know where he’s bin?
And I asked the pretty girls,
Why did they set you free?
They said there’s something you should see,
Under the magnolia tree.
However, it’s not all power and gusto ripping through this album. McHenry is able to showcase some of the milder side she experimented with on Tourist. “I Hate Waiting” and the suspenseful closer “Scheduled Trains” slow the tempo and allow her to explore the depths of her range and emotions to beautiful effect, really highlighting her versatility.
The album’s stand-out track however, is undoubtedly “Fever.” Not just will it leave its melody in your head for days, but its beautiful mix of poetic verses and a simple chorus mirror her complex emotions about the situation. The song’s coup d’grace comes in the second verse, when channeling her inner Joplin her voice wavers, but doesn’t break—a second encapsulating her adult life:
I think you know the current swept me away,
On a raft of my insane
denial that I’m not getting wet.
While I’m drowning in my own regret.
What truly makes this record work as a modern day piece of art is the music itself, which walks a delicate tightrope between modern indie-rock and old-school rock n’ roll. This not only allows McHenry’s 1970s style pipes to shine, but grounds her in a sound current enough to not feel like you left your classic rock station on.
No Dados is a consistent, hard-hitting ode to broken hearts, missing lovers, and troubled times by a woman who’s had her fair share of all three. A prolific songwriter whose genre changes with the album, getting swept along in the current of McHenry’s emotional, sonic riptide leaves your heart and eardrums soaked in sea-spray.
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? © Jillian Clark art © Nathan Golub