John Henry isn’t the first artist to draw considerable inspiration from Bruce Springsteen, but he’s the first artist we can think of–especially one who plays around Springfield regularly–to draw from the less anthemic parts of The Boss’s catalog. Right away “Lightning City Blues” kicks things off with the sparse, slightly eerie feel of a plugged-in Nebraska outtake. “Sweetness Wind” draws unavoidable parallels, too, in this case to songs from Darkness On the Edge of Town. The late-’50s-prom vibe of “Leave a Light On For Me” would be quite at home on The River. Henry has the young Springsteen’s breathy singing style and inflections down, too, complete with a hint of echo in the recording. Nice touch.
What helps John Henry & The Engine differ most from Springsteen on Under the Yellow Moon is that, while both Henry and Springsteen want to evoke the feel of the rock ‘n’ roll songs of the late ’50s and early ’60s, Henry seems to show a stronger desire to stay faithful to the source material. While Springsteen made sweeping, dynamic rock only hinting at, or tangential to, the pre-pop rock ‘n’ roll that inspired him, Henry roots his work directly in a mixture of blues, doo-wop and flourishes of rockabilly. You may not pump your fist and shout the choruses, but that’s not really the goal. Much like his famous influence, Henry makes music to reach through the speakers and make you feel alive–with all the happiness, sadness and longing that often involves. As an album full of such music, Under the Yellow Moon carries a power of its own–one that doesn’t need a saxophone solo, thank you very much.