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Keaton Henson Dear… Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

A collection of small music and slow sounds, this great debut creeps up on the listener.

Leonie Cooper 2012

Most musicians are shameless show-offs. What other kind of folk would be happy to bear their slipshod souls, open up about their obsessions and let the whole world know of their fondness for internal rhyming structures? Not to mention prancing about on stage in Topman’s finest and singing in public, in front of other human beings. Your average Joe or everyday Josephine would, quite rightly, find all of the above utterly terrifying. Which is why 23-year-old Keaton Henson is such a curious case.

Suffering from such awful stage fright that no proper gigs are happening anytime soon, Henson is unlikely to become the next Bono. And thank goodness for that. His 10-track debut album was recorded in his bedroom, which, we are told, is somewhere in the unglamorous outskirts of London, under Heathrow’s equally razzle-dazzle-free flight path.

A crafter of small music and slow sounds, his songs creep up on you – they don’t shout for your attention, but whisper for it. With his fireplace fingerpicking and fragile voice, at times you want to give him a great big hug and a mug of warm cocoa livened with a nip of confidence-boosting brandy. As an introduction to Keaton Henson, Dear… is the very definition of intimate.

His breakthrough track, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, takes the traditional singer-songwriter template, strips it back and layers the bearded Henson’s coy countertenor with an emotional gut-punch similar to that of Bon Iver’s first album, the break-up woodsman blues of For Emma, Forever Ago. Addressed to a former girlfriend, he finishes with the plaintive call of "does his love make your head spin," repeating it as guitar strings throb and Henson’s heart breaks all over again. It would almost be too much to bear, were it not for the soft melody dragging you deeper into his spellbinding sorrow.

Happily, Dear… isn’t all despair and despondency – though be warned, it mostly is. Sarah Minor is a gentle surmising of unreserved adoration despite a person’s faults. "And though your skin’s sheet white and your arms carry scars / Your hair isn’t clean much, your lungs black with tar," he lists, with a demonstrative tremble. Keaton Henson isn’t a show-off, but with talent like this, he has every right to be.

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