Dayton singer-songwriter specializes in ‘Sad Songs From Ohio’



Harold Hensley among musicians to appear Saturday for Winterfolk Festival at Yellow Cab Tavern.

With “Sad Songs From Ohio” (Magnaphone Records), Harold Hensley reveals once again why he is one the region’s most beloved singer-songwriters. The Americana artist, performing at the Winterfolk Festival at Yellow Cab Tavern in Dayton on Saturday, Jan. 14, took a streamlined approach to the achingly beautiful follow-up to his 2018 solo debut, “Midnight Savings Time.”

Last time out, the frontman for newgrass band the Repeating Arms embraced the freedom of working outside of the group to explore some vast musical territory. “Sad Songs From Ohio,” released last November, is a focused and self-assured affair that lets his vocals shine.

Pandemic project

Hensley (vocals, guitar, bass and drums) recorded the DIY album with the New Old-Fashioned’s David Payne (production, synthesizers, keyboards).

“It started right around lockdown,” Hensley said. “I had a few songs I was going to try to record myself. It kind of turned into this whole obsession, I guess you’d say, to try to get these songs recorded a certain way at home. I’ve been sending them over to David and he has produced it from afar, which has been great. What else were we going to do, you know, but work on music?

“I put a little money into a digital interface with two preamps,” Hensley continued. I was running straight into my computer and recording with this Apple software. I hadn’t recorded anything since the days of working on four-track and eight-track cassette machines. It’s a little easier but also harder at times because I’m not very techy.”



Finding that tone

“Midnight Savings Time” veered from beautiful acoustic songs like “Sweet Miller” and “Songs of Home” to wildly divergent material like rockabilly barnburner “Pose” and mid-tempo country rocker “Between the Sheet.” Conversely, the material on “Sad Songs From Ohio” resides in one cohesive sonic universe.

“At first, I was putting some money into recording gear just so my demos would sound a little bit better,” Hensley said. “I started noticing that some of these tracks sound really good. The microphones I had were super nice and they were picking up exactly how I was hearing the songs. I planned on doing a studio record at Reel Love but now I’m pretty excited about recording at home again.”

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Remote sessions

Hensley recorded the basic tracks himself and then sent them to Payne. The frontman for the New Old-Fashioned, who has recorded with and mentored under Patrick Himes, provided overdubs and produced the album, which was mastered by Tim Pritchard of the Boxcar Suite.

“I was sitting on my couch and Harold sent me a demo of a song and I really liked it,” Payne said. “I started playing around with some of the synthesizers and stuff. I sent it back to him and he loved it. He decided to send me a couple more. I started working on those. Harold was thinking of it as just a thing with him and an acoustic guitar at first and we ended up making it a whole thing. I tried to keep his voice and the acoustic up front and have everything else be just sort of textural.”



Keeping it simple

The restrained approach worked. The arrangements are simple and supportive, with Hensley providing subtle drum parts and Dan Spaugy of Age Nowhere adding pedal steel punctuations in all the right spots.

“We wanted to go for a little bit of an indie flair and a little bit of lo-fi at times,” Hensley said. “I played the drums and the bass. It was an experience for me, writing all those parts. The production of it didn’t need to be super overproduced or be super lo-fi to get the point across. We wanted to get somewhere in the middle, maybe. Then, to be able to send the tracks to Dan and have him put his beautiful steel parts on it was just amazing.”

It’s difficult to single out one or two highlights from “Sad Songs From Ohio.” Each song is as good as the next. Whether Hensley is singing about providing comfort (“Skin and Bones”), appreciating companionship (“But You Do”) or facing mortality (“Dying Bed”), he delivers the intimate slice-of-life tales in his downhome tenor. Clocking in at an economical 26 minutes, that’s a recipe sure to have listeners coming back for repeat listens.

“This is Harold’s best work from a writing standpoint,” Payne said. “This is something he really needed to do for himself and it ended up helping me out too. It ended up being a really positive thing for both of us. I’m really happy with how it turned out.”

Contact this contributing writer at 937-287-6139 or e-mail at


What: Winterfolk Fest 2023 with Harold Hensley & His Band, the Shady Pine, Honey & Houston, Cory Breth, Kyleen Downes and Derek Gooley

Where: Yellow Cab Tavern, 700 E. Fourth St., Dayton

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 14; doors open at 7 p.m.

Cost: $12 in advance, $15 day of show

More info: 937-424-3870 or

Artist info:

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