The idea of a country-leaning folk-rock album from a band fronted by the former guitarist for the Bongos probably sounded like some sort of a bad joke in 1993, but it didn't take long for the Health and Happiness Show to outshine most folks' memories of James Maestro's past resumé, and one listen to Tonic will show why. While Maestro didn't have an especially high profile as a songwriter on his earlier recording projects, he certainly made up for lost time here, with ten songs that are warm, honest, and speak from the heart without sounding saccharine or clichéd, all of them buoyed by melodies that manage to sound graceful and catchy at once. And Maestro put together a great little band to play these tunes, including one-time Feelies percussionist St. Vincent DeNunzio, future Patti Smith bassist Tony Shanahan, and ace multi-instrumentalist Kerryn Tolhurst; the Health and Happiness Show make their arrangements sound full and satisfying without becoming overbearing, and they can ease from folk to country to Celtic accents without missing a step. (Their Celtic side gets a real boost by the presence of Eileen Ivers, who plays alongside HAHS fiddler Todd Reynolds on three cuts.) Despite the downtown credibility of several of the members, the Health and Happiness Show played roots music like they were born to it, and Tonic offers conclusive proof even a New Yorker can play a convincing two-step if they put their mind to it.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming