Well, 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 Worthyin 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.
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.
First, apologies for the light blogging. I suppose it’s time to crawl out of the woodwork and pass along some of the recent happenings in JH’s universe.
Many thanks and kudos to Stefan for keeping the flame burning in my absence and holding down the European front. He’s been tireless in his efforts, and much of what you’ll read here I heard about from his blog.
Stefan also first tipped me to JH’s production work on a marvelous new Christmas record by Irish artist Caitriona O’Leary called The Wexford Carols. For this fascinating collection of nearly forgotten Christmas folk ballads, she is joined by Rhiannon Giddens, Tom Jones and Rosanne Cash. What a beautiful and surprising holiday collection. It is available only as an import stateside, but it available in the U.S. iTunes store.
Speaking of beautiful Christmas music, Over The Rhine have released their new collection Blood Oranges in the Snow. Though JH lends no production to this one, frequent collaborators Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos and Eric Heywood hold down much of the musical support for the album. And nobody does Christmas music quite like OtR!
Big, big live performance news for 2015: JH and Sam Phillips will join forces for two nights (Feb. 21 & 22) at Largo in West Hollywood. They will share the stage – and a band – for the two evenings. I’m pretty sure names like Bellerose and Condos will be involved (tickets for Feb. 21, Feb. 22).
Nell Robinson recently released an interesting CD that was produced by JH at Garfield House. Rose of No-Man’s Land is Robinson’s tribute to her family’s long tradition of military service, woven together from letters and reflections by her Alabama family. Ramblin’ Jack, Kris Kristofferson and John Doe all make guest appearances.
One final related note… Jay Bellerose continues to be a go-to player for most of T Bone Burnett’s projects. Therefore, it will come as no surprise that his percussive stamp is all over The New Basement Tapes’ Lost on the River. Jay can also be found (shyly) in front of the camera for the accompanying Showtime documentary about the project (previous notes on this project here).
While attending last month’s Americana Fest in Nashville, JH stopped by Acoustic Cafe’s studios to tape a segment. His performance and interview can be heard on Episode #1032 (the episode is broken into segments on the website, with performance kicking in around 5:00 min on Segment Two).
Also while in Nashville, JH recorded a video performance at RCA’s historic Studio A, which has been threatened by development and become something of a rallying point for artists. JH gives us his very unique, open-tuning take on Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Stunning.
Joe Henry will appear at a very unique event in Cincinnati in January called American Originals. From Jan. 23-25, JH will perform alongside artists like Rosanne Cash, Over The Rhine and Aoife O’Donovan with the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra in tribute to Stephen Foster (more info here).
Leading up to that, JH will hit a few midwestern cities:
In its most recent newsletter, Fretboard Journalrevealed that Joe Henry will interview multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz in the upcoming issue, which is due for shipment in the coming weeks. You can subscribe or purchase issues here (there is also a digital iTunes edition available).
Leisz’s playing graced Invisible Hour, and he has long been one of Joe Henry’s go-to players on both his records (see also Civilians) and his productions. Leisz toured last year with Eric Clapton, and he co-produced the new Lucinda Williams record, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone (due Sep. 30) as well as contributed string work to every track on the album. He is arguably the most in-demand pedal and lap steel player on the planet.