There is, when you speak with Samm Henshaw, that odd mercurial quality common to many great artists, of seeming to be both old and young at the same time – a trait reflected in much of his music.
Henshaw, signed to Columbia Records last year, has become part of a growing group of young singer-songwriters including Paolo Nutini and Lianne La Havas – whose retro sensibilities are able to cast their listeners back through music history like a form of sonic time travel.
Every bar and beat of theirs was brushing up against some musicological touchstone – Redding, Jackson, Gaye – all the names that came to mind as TNT watched Henshaw perform at The Deaf Institute, one of Manchester’s most intimate venues.
Henshaw’s charisma on stage was palpable, wowing the crowd with some of his most popular songs like Autonomy and Redemption, before introducing new material from his upcoming EP – the aptly named The Sound Experiment 2. His performance, pulling from both his previous and upcoming work, is in many ways symbolic of the thing that most sets Samm Henshaw apart.
His ability to refer to both old and new, to be classic yet contemporary, takes listeners of his music forwards and backwards at the same time.
The Motown riffs, the bluesy melodies, the stunningly soulful vocals, all of them speak to the myriad of influences that have helped shape him, and yet are married to a frenetic onstage energy and bold lyricism, that is so unapologetically fresh and modern it’s genre-pushing.
As one fan remarked after the show, “this man has the surprise of Labrinth and the soul of Otis Redding”. And the comparisons don’t stop there. By now Henshaw has been likened to everyone from D’Angelo to John Legend – his song-writing and performance so diverse they seem to touch on multiple boundaries and, somehow, unify them.
But maybe what most informs Henshaw’s music was revealed by the man himself in an interview with TNT before the gig. “Music is for people,” he said softly but emphatically – a statement perfectly demonstrated by the diverse crowd that came to see him perform.
And so perhaps it’s this, his ability to cross and connect boundaries, that really defines Samm Henshaw as an artist, and in so doing, pushes him beyond any comparison at all.
TNT Entertainment Micah Yongo