Goin’ Up the Country With John Henry and the Engine

Photo by Sara Finke.

Photo by Sara Finke.

I first heard of John Henry and the Engine about two, maybe three years ago, via a loose, somewhat lo-fi rock and roll EP called Charlie Baby. The sound and the songwriting had a serious Springsteen jones, with some contrapuntal alt-rock guitar hooks thrown against the dive bar band arrangements. I liked it. I heard promise.

The band’s first full-length, Under the Yellow Moon, released last year, built on that foundation, but took a harder blues turn at times, while skirting around the edges of country music in ways that surprised me. And now, on their new vinyl EP, I Don’t Wanna Know, the young Saint Louis band, has made a modest but more convincing country turn, with ripping and crying fiddles, spare acoustic strums, honky tonk piano, and some tight harmonies, especially on the title track. And the songwriting is sharper, more concise, more resonant.

Though I’ve often gone on record to voice my displeasure at shucks-and-grin country joke bands like Southern Culture on the Skids (who, to be clear, have transformed their approach), I do think country music should be fun to play, serious fun. And that’s just how John Henry and the Engine play it on this fine, new three-song slice of Americana life.

Catch the band at their vinyl release party tonight (Friday) at Off Broadway. They’ll be joined by Tom Schraeder, Mike Kendrick & The Blue Eyed Sons, and Matt Nichols.

I Don’t Wanna Know – John Henry and the Engine

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