Review of Beyond the Pale (Paradigm Records) by William Ruhlmann

Oklahoma-born, New York-based singer/songwriter Bruce Henderson leads a pickup band of session pros called the High Plains Drifters, including G.E. Smith of the Saturday Night Live band, Andy York,Paul Ossola, and Shawn Pelton, and all of them turn up backing him on his debut solo album, efficiently giving him a Southwest sound that ranges from the acoustic folk of "Texas or New Mexico" to the rock & roll of "I Can Drive" with plenty of country in between. Henderson has a Southern-accented tenor in which he sings lyrics that paint a portrait of a man who is more interested in lust than love and more interested in traveling than settling down. He puts his cards on the table right away, with the double-barreled sentiments of "Feet of Clay" and "House of Love," in which he warns a romantic partner that he is liable to be inconstant ("I fall in love and then I walk away") and restless ("You want to build a house of love/I want a mobile home"). By the time of the fourth song, "There's a Hole," he has found a back-handed way of proposing marriage ("There's a hole in this ring/That you could put a finger through/And there's a hole in your head/If that's what you intend to do"), but he reserves his real enthusiasm for hitting the road ("I Can Drive," "The Wheels Roll"). To put it mildly, there is a conflict in this man's worldview, but it's not one he's unaware of. In fact, he sometimes emphasizes the contradictions, such as in the album-closing "City Folk," in which he acknowledges that he's become a New Yorker over an arrangement that is in Western Swing style, straight out of Bob Wills. So, the character Henderson defines in his songs is an engaging one, not least because of his and his bandmates musical facility.