Review – Robert Henry & The Repeaters – “The Way It Usually Goes”

Like a steel train locomotive with three helper engines pinned and hauling 38 box cars chock full of 100% prime Angus American-made twang, Robert Henry and the Repeaters come barreling into your country music heart like a Hyundai hatchback helplessly stalled on the tracks, slobberknocking you right across the kisser with the maximum amount of country music per volume. Congratulations, you have just stumbled upon your next favorite band.

Think that Portland, Oregon is incapable of giving birth to an authentic honky tonk band? Then give The Way It Usually Goes a spin and stand corrected. Since 2018, Robert Henry and his compadres have been utterly defining the hard country edge of Portland’s country scene. Now with this kick ass new record, they’re ready to do the same for country music nationwide.

The Way It Usually Goes starts out with the super twangy tracks “Gimmie a Guitar” and “Canadian Border,” getting you revved up for a full tilt country experience. The lead guitar and steel come in blazing hot, trading licks back and forth, and getting you feeling all kinds of punchy. The interplay of rhythm and melody in these songs make them immediately infectious. There’s no need for repeated listens to unravel the appeal of what’s going on here. They earn your undivided attention instantly.

But as the album continues on, it’s really the songwriting that maintains that attention and earns your repeat business. “Fightin’ Kind” describes the kind of tumultuous relationship so many of us find ourselves in. “B-Side Women” shows off a clever side of Robert Henry’s songwriting. “Grow Up to Be Me” tips a hat to Willie and Waylon, verifying this band’s country music bona fides. And if you’re still worried this might be a pack of West Coast wimps, give “Last Cowboy Hat in California” a spin.

What might be most remarkable is Robert Henry’s voice. With a woody, liven-in and whiskey-soaked tone, it’s reminiscent of Junior Brown, and at times, Waylon. In certain moments, Robert just sings the song and lets the words and music carry the tune. At other times though, he recognizes how well he can wield his voice as an instrument, letting the rich tone and where he chooses to place the emphasis help tell the story.

Some of the songs maybe could have used a second pass in the editing process, but this isn’t some Americana singer/songwriter bit. This is a country and Western album with the songs served raw, unpolished, and unapologetic. That doesn’t mean there’s no refinement or growth here though. A few of these songs also appeared on a 2020 EP from the band. But now having battle tested them in the honky tonks of the Pacific Northwest, they’re ready for the big time.

Robert Henry started The Repeaters with drummer Jake Mauro after they played together in a metal band called Bigger Trigger in high school. They may have switched to country, but that aggression and attack is still present in many of their up-tempo songs. They’re joined by veteran steel player Bob Littleton, lead guitarist Justyn Lewis, and bass player Matt Haugen.

Robert Henry and The Repeaters have let the music find them, not looking to cut any corners, and instead have cut their teeth in honky tonks to find an authentic sound. They’re one of those regional bands with international appeal, and The Way It Usually Goes is a truly independent release that deserves major attention.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8.4/10)

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