A child of the folk revival, she grew up traveling to fiddle and song camps, zig-zagging her way along a path of her own curiosity. She was initially inspired by Celtic music, especially Irish fiddling and the highly-rhythmic Cape Breton fiddle style, eventually making her way to Old Time string band music and other Americana influences. While in Boston, where she was attending the New England Conservatory, Henley tapped the local scene to connect with a younger generation of songwriters and instrumentalists, and has continued to work with top-flight young traditionalists like Rushad Eggleston, Brittany & Natalie Haas, and Tashina & Tristan Clarridge. However, it was her move to Tel Aviv, Israel for three years that cemented her current work. There Henley became inspired by the language and rhythms of Sephardic culture, music that she had first experienced as a young child. The flowing and bubbling vocal lines of Ladino music and language seeped into her own songwriting and brought a new repertoire. Never losing sight of her original interests in Celtic and American roots music, her new sound could be called Old World Americana. This blend of Old World influences, ranging from the Fertile Crescent to the Celtic Isles, with the fiddle and song traditions of the New World, is the key to Lily’s music. It’s the extension of her love of the rhythms of human language and her passion for bringing old traditions into new light.
On Words Like Yours, Lily Henley’s voice sparkles clear and bright, soaring over her complex, winding arrangements and her crack team of acoustic roots players: Dominick Leslie (The Deadly Gentlemen) on mandolin/mandola, Duncan Wickel (The Boston Boys, John Doyle, The Duhks) on 5-string fiddle, Jordan Tice (Tony Trischka, Tice/Haas/Kowert Trio) on guitar, and Israeli Jazz phenom Haggai Cohen-Milo on bass. The album was produced by renowned Israeli composer, arranger, and Oud/Bass virtuoso Omer Avital, an artist who, like Lily, has followed his own roots back to Israel and the Middle East on projects including Yemen Blues, Debka Fantasia, and Third World Love. Making Words Like Yours, Lily was looking, as she says, for “a way of interpreting old influences so that they don’t lose what I love about them, but so that they are authentic to me as a young American songwriter and fiddle player.”
There’s something remarkably different about fiddler, singer, and songwriter Lily Henley’s music. On her debut EP, Words Like Yours, her songs will sound familiar to fans of American roots music, but are tinged with Old World accents and surprising melismas and ornaments. That’s because she lays claim to more influences than most roots musicians today.
"These days, one automatically expects a new artist in the folk/roots world to have a compelling voice with a strong range. Lily not only gives us this remarkable voice, but adds arrangements that are equally compelling. I can't remember the last time I listened to a new artist whose arrangements matched the power of her voice and her songwriting skills. There's something very magical about this cd. Lily seems to glide her voice in perfect sync with these inventive arrangements. Is this the new direction of American roots music? If so, it sounds beautiful."
-John Hart, New Folk Radio.
Throughout the album, Lily’s beautiful vocals weave in and out with her stellar backing band and her powerful fiddling. Her influences intertwine, sometimes all at once, as in the second track “Dark Girl,” a traditional Sephardic song. Her fiddle blazes through riffs born from Celtic and American sources, while her voice sings achingly in Ladino, with Dominick and Jordan’s mandola and guitar picking out Irish bouzouki-inspired counterpoint. Opening track, “Two Birds,” is a great taste of Lily’s songwriting: “Looking down with my eagle’s eye/Everything’s so tiny from the sky... Are you still here with me?” One of the highlights is the final track of the album, “Bluz Kna’ani,” a song from the much-loved Israeli singer-songwriter Ehud Banai. It sounds as old as the hills of Jerusalem, but it’s actually a new composition that translates as “Canaanite Blues.” It’s a beautiful song about loss and longing, “Since you left, much here has changed/It’s an electronic world, it’s a little hard to talk/And words like yours/Nobody says anymore.” This song echoes Lily’s music, for even in a digital world the words of the Old World can still have great power.