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Published: 2008/05/23
by Fady Khalil

Down the Road – Ernie Hendrickson

self-released

Ernie Hendrickson, 30, has been refining his soniferous art form for more than a decade. In that time the Midwestern reared musician has found himself sporting many a musical visage. Including the eclectic jam group, the Seed Band, Hendrickson originated and periodically regroups with one of Chi-towns premier improvisational rock quartets, the Make Believe. However, its his latest sonic countenance that seems to be garnering the artist his greatest praise. Drawing heavily from acoustic blues, bluegrass, and folk with a pop surface-coating for good measure, Down The Road — Hendricksons first solo album — possesses a certain appositeness in the ethereal spectrum of American Roots music that has many heads turning.

Throughout Hendricksons latest project, the Midwestern crooner manages to walk a fine line between the mass appeal of pop music and the refined tendencies of roots music, creating a sound difficult to fault from either angle. No song represents said coalescence more effectively than the radio friendly Seasons Change, bop, bop, bop back-up vocals included. To be sure, however, Down The Road is unambiguously Americana and possess a healthy share of love songs to prove it.
Wild and Free, a warm-summer-day-stoop-sitting kind of number with an easy feel and decided display of Hendricksons ability to effortlessly wax poetic, particularly on matters of love, stands out immediately upon first pass. In The Corner of My Mind — a reflection on a lost love — demonstrates quintessential roots music with all the trimmings including a square-dance inducing, upbeat country swing throughout the chorus. Conversely, Bad Mixed Up Woman offers a blue-hued bit of folk, soulful harmonica included. Yet, Hendrickson easily runs the gamut with no noticeable stretch of vocals and no notable strain in sincerity throughout the lyrics, a testament of his flexibility and capability as a singer. Personal favorites, the eponymous title track and Lay Your Troubles Down, were a welcome addition expanding the focus of Down the Road to include introspection on family and formative years, and philosophies on life.

Only a few songs seem expressly experimental, none more so than the near five-minute instrumental The Old House which harkens perhaps on Hendricksons days in the jamband circuit; days that are far from over considering Down The Road was engineered by Manny Sanchez (Umphrey’s McGee) and features Howard Levy, once of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

Masterfully spinning an artful, folk strain with a down-home, hearth and country appeal, the Wisconsin born, Illinois bred artist proves a natural fit in Americana. Indeed, upon evaluation of his music it becomes hard to reconcile the knowledge that Hendrickson is actually a new comer in the scene, working towards recognition. His music easily justifies the mention of his name in the same context as, dare-it-be-said, genre power house Ryan Adams. Down The Road proves a landmark first album in what is sure to be an esteemed collection of work within American roots music.

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