The John Henrys Talk White Linen

The John Henrys Talk <i>White Linen</i>
Acclaimed Ottawa-based roots rockers the John Henrys dropped their third album, White Linen, earlier this week, and with its release, comes high hopes of a significant step up.

The band put out their previous album, Sweet As the Grain, on their own imprint, 9LB Records, in 2007. It received a new lease on life when Toronto-based independent label Linus Entertainment picked it up for distribution in 2008, with the hardworking combo playing extensively in both Canada and the U.S. to support it.

While Sweet As the Grain was made for a bare-bones $2,000, White Linen had a significantly larger recording budget, John Henrys singer/guitarist Rey Sabatin Jr. told Exclaim! in a recent interview, enabling the band to set up shop in noted Ottawa studio Little Bullhorn (Kathleen Edwards, Jim Bryson).

"That studio is almost designed to make you feel relaxed," says Sabatin. "You go in there all excited then you sit down and your heart rate starts dropping a little. Everything we've recorded there, the feel has always been dead on."

In keeping with their "old-school" approach, the John Henrys recorded to analogue tape. They produced themselves via a collective process that bassist Darryl Quinlan terms a smooth one. "Everyone comes in with their ideas, and everyone is really honest about saying whether they think something works or not."

According to drummer Geoff Ward, "If Daniel Lanois and T-Bone Burnett phoned saying they wanted to team up to do our next record, I guess we'd have to think about it. Right now, though, we're at a stage where it is still pretty exciting to do it ourselves."

Sabatin is the chief songwriter on White Linen, but Quinlan, keyboardist Steve Tatone, and guitarist Doug Gouthro also contribute. Gouthro's composition, "Patriot Song," closes out the album, and it tells the story of a battle between the patriot hunters and the 38th Regiment of the British Infantry in 1838, fought beside a windmill (now a lighthouse) located in Prescott, ON.

"The battle site was near my grandmother's cottage and I was always fascinated by it as a kid," says Gouthro. "My partner Michelle works at the National Archives, so I got a pass to go in there and do some research. I had a really good time writing that song."

The John Henrys will begin a 22-date Canadian trek with label-mates Madison Violet, beginning in Guelph, ON on April 3 and concluding on May 15 in Vancouver. You can see all the band's dates here.