Mike Henderson | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Mike Henderson

Dead Reckoning Records was founded by frustrated country artists Kieran Kane, Kevin Welch, Tammy Rogers, Harry Stinson, and Mike Henderson as an alternative to the strangling demands of the Nashville machine. One need only compare Mike Henderson's terrific new record Edge of Night with his previous major-label outing Country Music Made Me Do It (RCA) to witness the dramatic self-preservation artistic autonomy has allowed. Henderson's RCA album was one of the finest country efforts of 1994--a muscular yet tasteful update of honky-tonk swagger--but the pervasive hand of Nashville production cornered him into a stylistic conundrum. Despite its line-dance sheen the record failed to chart on all-important country radio and Henderson was hastily dropped from the label. All of the ideas and styles that strained to escape from the corporate stranglehold of Country Music have been set free on Edge of Night. The new record vibrantly traces the singer/guitarist's roots--displaying Chuck Berry-esque rock 'n' roll (The "Johnny B. Goode"-like "I Wouldn't Lay My Guitar Down"), hard-hitting blues ("Nobody's Fault but Mine," a swell showcase for his prodigious National Steel Guitar playing), gospel (a cover of the Staple Singers' "This May Be the Last Time"), rockabilly (the Elvis Presley vehicle "You're So Square"), and old-time honky-tonk (Ernest Tubb's "Take Me Back and Try"). Rather than coming off as a patchwork of influences, these divergent elements are pulled together by Henderson into a cohesive, blues-stoked whole. With inventive, fiery guitar playing and vocals that could place him near John Hiatt, Henderson is a country rocker with style. He performs as part of A Night of Reckoning, a perpetually touring label showcase that finds the company's founders playing together in one all-star band. Saturday, 10 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118. PETER MARGASAK

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