San Diego’s Mrs. Henry Engages Musical Community in Spirited Take on The Band’s ‘The Last Waltz’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

It’s admirable to take on the endeavor of creating that special night of The Band’s Last Waltz from 1976. While it’s impossible to recreate the magic and spontaneity of that evening, San Diego’s band, Mrs. Henry, (named after a Band song from The Basement Tapes), and their star-studded cast of friends did a fantastic job of reliving that spirit. And, rather than compare these versions to the originals, it’s best to just enjoy some different voices and different takes. It will clearly leave you smiling. 

”The idea of doing The Last Waltz was brought to us backstage before we were going to play a show,” said Dan Cervantes. “I immediately knew it was something we had to do although I was completely terrified by the amount  of work, planning and rehearsing I was signing myself u for.” “We knew if we didn’t do it, someone else would have,” added Jody Bagley.” The band completely understood that they would have to do it right and their hard work and preparation shows through vividly in this rousing 2 CD, 3 LP set that they deliver in celebratory fashion.

Much like the original, which featured plenty of guests, Mrs. Henry called on thirty musicians from the San Diego area to add their voices and instruments to the occasion, held at The Belly Up Tavern on a Sunday evening, November 26, 2017. Some of the musicians were among San Diego’s best – members of The Schizophonics, Sacri Monti, and Louis XIV. The months of preparation paid off handsomely. Stephen Kaye (The Growlers, Ziggy Marley) mixed and Joe Bozzi, known for his work with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, to master. Turn up the volume and you’ll feel as if you’re in the room. Surely, there are some ragged moments and a misstep here and there but, honestly, the original has flaws too.  In both cases, the spirit of collaboration and joy supersedes all else. There is also a 30-minute featurette, documenting the preparation and footage from the show. 

Similar to how The Band prepared 40 plus years ago, Mrs. Henry began preparing for this show with long four hour shows, they dubbed Mothership shows, featuring a rotating cast of musicians and friends. Every artist that sat in played one original and one cover song, with the band backing up every note. Preparation took the better part of a year, from July 2017 up until that evening. The guests added the horns, fiddles, accordions and even mimicked some of the original guests in their introductions. 

Mrs. Henry is Jody Bagley (keys, vocals), Dan Cervantes (guitar, vocals), Blake Dean (bass, vocals) and Chad Lee (drums). You can sense the comradery and deep friendship among these guests. Highlights include the Muddy Waters’ tunes “Caledonia” and “Mannish Boy,” the sing-along “Down in New Orleans,” and killer Band covers of “It Makes No Difference,” “Up On Cripple Creek” and many others. 

For many of us who have grown up with these songs, we will forever hold The Band’s version as sacred. Yet, this is a splendid effort too. The spirit of the night is contagious from the opening notes clear through Mrs. Henry and friends’  “I Shall Be Released” and the encore “Don’t Do It.”

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