Joe Henry & Sam Phillips at Largo (Feb. 21, 2014, Los Angeles, CA)

[Below you can read my thoughts on the (historic?) pairing of Joe Henry and Sam Phillips at Largo at The Coronet last weekend.  You can also check out the recap from Randy Lewis of the LA Times (thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet for the link).]

I suppose I’ve tried to make it somewhat of a personal tradition to attend a Joe Henry show when it happens to be at Largo in West Hollywood.  The Coronet Theatre is, in my opinion, the finest listening room in the world, and JH has a long association with Largo, dating back to its original club location on N. Fairfax.  These days, it is sometimes the only place where you can see him collaborate with the highly respected (and in-demand) musicians who have appeared on many of his records.

Sam Phillips shares this association – and many others – with Joe Henry, and their pairing last Saturday at Largo was even more natural in reality than it would seem on paper.  These two extraordinary artists share not only common tastes in musicians but simply appear to have been cut from the same cosmic cloth as songwriters and performers.  The audience might have been fairly evenly divided between the artists’ respective (and devoted) fan bases, but their purpose felt entirely united throughout the evening.

The evening featured two shows, both topping two hours.  The first was a sold-out marathon, and the second was a more intimate reprise attended largely by diehards from the first performance.  The sets were similar, though the first likely was stretched a bit longer by the first public performance of JH’s “Sign” from Invisible Hour, easily one of his best and most epic songs.

Highlights from both sets included:

  • Sam Phillips opening each show with Stephen Merritt’s “Underwear”
  • Daughter Simone’s angelic vocals filtered with ethereal echo for “Cameras In The Sky”
  • Sam and Simone’s rendition of JH’s “Stop”, accompanied only by Eric Gorfain’s looped violin parts
  • The transition to Joe’s portion of the show with an acoustic duet on “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”
  • The acoustic arrangement of “Trampoline”
  • The touching tribute to both Malcolm X and Nina Simone (murdered and born, respectively, also on Feb. 21) with “All Blues Hail Mary”
  • JH’s rendition of Sam’s “Reflecting Light,” with a melody, according to Joe, “worthy of Nat Cole”
  • The encore featuring all players on Sam Phillips’ “One Day Late”

And, of course, to the surprise of nobody in attendance, the musicians onstage were the true highlight: Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos, Levon Henry, Patrick Warren and Eric Gorfain.  To those who recognize those names from their numerous collaborations with Joe and Sam, you already know that these players are truly miraculous.

I will admit that each time I’ve spent all morning on a plane from Texas to LA (usually with a turnaround the next day), I’ve wondered if it would be my last such trip.  Of course, humility should render the answer unknowable, in any case.  But so long as I have any say in the matter, I’m sure you’ve guessed that my answer is: no, probably not the last.

Joe Henry moving on from Garfield House

In a rather stunning post, Joe Henry has announced that it is time for his family to move on from Garfield House in Pasadena, where JH has been planting his production roots since around 2007.  I’ll let you read his heartfelt words and ponder them in due course.

However, if you would like to fund one of the last productions to be held at Garfield, check out the new Kickstarter-funded project from Birds of Chicago.  As it happens, the duo entered The Garfield House today, with JH at the helm.  The project incidentally reached 100% funding today, but you can still chip in to help the band reach their stretch goals.

And should you be so inclined, raise a glass to the stunning recordings that have emerged over the years from the space that Joe Henry and engineer Ryan Freeland transformed from a humble basement to a world-class recording studio (apologies for any recordings I omit off the top of my head):

  • Joe Henry – Civilians
  • Loudon Wainwright III – Strange Weirdos
  • Mary Gauthier – Between Daylight and Dark
  • Mose Allison – The Way of the World
  • Rodney Crowell – Sex & Gasoline
  • Loudon Wainwright III – Recovery
  • Joe Henry – Blood From Stars
  • Ramblin’ Jack Elliott – A Stranger Here
  • Over The Rhine – The Long Surrender
  • Aaron Neville – I Know I’ve Been Changed
  • Billy Bragg – Tooth & Nail
  • Joe Henry – Reverie
  • Over The Rhine – Meet Me At The Edge Of The World
  • Joe Henry – Invisible Hour
  • Bettye LaVette – Worthy

Rhiannon Giddens and Iron & Wine team up for Joe Henry-produced Bob Dylan cover

Nonesuch has released a digital single of a cover of the classic Dylan song “Forever Young,” performed by Rhiannon Giddens and Iron & Wine.  The song was produced by Joe Henry and featured in the series finale of NBC’s Parenthood.

Giddens, as you’ll recall, has worked with JH as both a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops and as a solo act (she was a guest on last year’s JH projects Look Again To The Wind and Caitriona O’Leary’s The Wexford Carols).

Rhiannon Giddens profile is likely to raised even further in the coming weeks with the release of her T Bone Burnett-produced solo debut, Tomorrow Is My Turn (due Feb. 10 on Nonesuch).  She was recently featured in a lengthy feature by The New York Times’ Jon Pareles and also participated in Burnett’s hand-picked ensemble for 2014’s The New Basement Tapes.

Bettye LaVette’s ‘Worthy’ out today

BettyeLaVette_WorthyWell, I’m only about three listens in to the exceptional, Joe Henry-produced new album by Bettye LaVette, but I’m more than comfortable placing Worthy in my personal Top Five Joe Henry Productions.  A true master class of song selection, production, pacing and performace, Worthy lives up to its title and then some. It’s hard to know where to start — certainly the additional decade of experience between JH and Bettye LaVette is on full display (remember that back in 2004 JH was actually a somewhat new name among hired producers).  As always, the players on a JH production play a key role.  Along with stellar support from Doyle Bramhall II, Chris Bruce and Jay Bellerose (and yes, Levon Henry contributes a horn arrangement to one track), I’d have to give the MVP nod to Patrick Warren’s piano, which adds perhaps the most unexpectedly distinctive voice to the songs. Of course, nothing can compare to LaVette’s uncanny ability to transform others’ songs into something quite her own.  Her interpretive gifts are a wonder to behold and this record more than justifies her place among the elite singers of our time. A few release day notes…

  • Bettye LaVette was slated to begin her two-week residency at Café Carlyle in NYC, but I believe tonight’s performance has been postponed or canceled due to the ongoing blizzard in the Northeast.  Check with the venue for confirmation and word on the rest of the week’s performances.
  • Jim Farber has a nice article on LaVette in the New York Daily News.
  • There’s a great piece in this month’s Mix Magazine, with JH and Ryan Freeland discussing the recording of Worthy.
  • You can hear the record in its entirety over at The Wall Street Journal.
  • Mark Deming has a rave review of the record on All Music Guide.
  • PopMatters’ Colin McGuire give Worthy and 8 out of 10.
  • Blurt’s Michael Toland delivers an insightful, four-star review.
  • Photos from Wednesday’s performance at Café Carlyle (Bettye was also interviewed by Paul Schaefer).
  • A recent interview with The Guardian.
  • UPDATED:  Josh Hurst contributes his review to Medium.

BTW, my autographed copy arrived yesterday, which can be purchased from LaVette’s website, in both the standard edition and deluxe edition (which includes a DVD performance from July 2014 in London).

Joe & Jay on High Fidelity Podcast

Well, it’s Christmas Eve.  So might I suggest grabbing a cup o’ nog or grog, putting your feet up by the fire and curling up with the latest Live from High Fidelity podcast, featuring Joe Henry and Jay Bellerose (taped in Jay’s man-cave, no less).

Along with host Tom DeSavia and Eric Gorfain, they discuss and spin some of their favorite records and a few yarns along the way.  Clocking in a nearly 3 hours, Episode 25 (Parts 1 & 2) can be downloaded from iTunes here or Hipcast here.

Please have a wonderful holiday and a very safe New Year.  Hope to see you back in 2015.