Since the dawn of “Louie Louie,” someone, somewhere, is always playing garage rock. Few of them are doing it as well as Reese McHenry. She has a blast-furnace voice, which she applies with dizzying power to songs that practically thrum with energy. Yet a decade ago, there was a period when the North Carolina singer couldn’t even speak, let alone sing, after experiencing a major stroke and a series of smaller aftershocks. As if that wasn’t enough, she was also diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.
Her band at the time splintered, and McHenry spent the better part of two years recovering, where she wrote song after song while confined to her couch. Eventually, after also receiving a pacemaker, she began working her way back with a string of musical projects that in 2017 yielded Bad Girl, her first solo album. No Dados, the follow-up, is bigger and brawnier on songs that practically throw off sparks as McHenry and her band barrel through them. She’s commanding on rugged guitar workouts, her massive voice cutting through the churn of power chords and elemental drums on opener “Magnolia Tree” and soaring full-throated just atop the bristling riffage of “White Bear Incident.”
Mixed in among the battering-ram rave-ups are some changes of pace. On “Detroit,” McHenry dips into the undercurrent of soul that flows through so much garage rock, and she sings with undiluted passion about heading to the Motor City to retrieve a wayward lover, her voice strong enough to pin the poor bastard to the back wall of whatever flophouse he’s holed up in until she can drag his ass to the car and make amends. She slows things down on “I Hate Waiting,” cascades of overdriven guitar falling around vocals she delivers with tightly coiled restraint that starts to slip as she brings the song home; and engages in a call-and-response with guitar and drums at the start of “Can You Say?” before she takes control and steers through the rest of the tune.
McHenry mostly sticks to classic subject matter like broken hearts and pointed kiss-offs: “Murdered Love” and “Bye Bye Baby” don’t require much elaboration, though she offers a twist by probing for the root of someone else’s dissatisfaction over buzzsaw guitars on “Clogged and Idle Freeways.” All that time working on songs while regaining her strength has made McHenry an agile enough writer to give well-worked topics a fresh spin, but her intensity, and depth of feeling, are what really get these songs across. A voice like hers is a rare quality, and it’s surely as gratifying to McHenry as it is to her fans that she finally has a chance to make the most of it.