Allen Toussaint (1938-2015)

Muere-el-m-sico-Allen-Toussaint-a-los-77-a-os-de-edad-shaune-Fraser-campeon-panamericano-natacionIn stunning news, Allen Toussaint has passed away from a heart attack, following a concert performance in Spain.  Tributes are pouring in all over the internet, but I suppose you could start with this one from The Atlantic’s David A. Graham.

JH has not yet added his voice to the chorus of remembrances, but when he does, one can imagine that it will be the most essential of reading.

There is at least one bit of silver lining to this sad news: Toussaint completed a recording project a few weeks ago, helmed by JH.  In his Facebook post, engineer Ryan Freeland notes that he is beginning to mix the project today.  So it would appear that we will be treated to at least one final project from Toussaint and a long-awaited reuniting of Toussaint with Joe Henry as producer.

UPDATE:  JH and Nonesuch confirm the completion of the new record and a 2016 release.

Joe Henry: Dog Days Update

Well, it’s been a while, but there are some odds and ends to report.  So spike your iced tea and check out a few recent Joe Henry happenings…

  • JH has written a lovely tribute to the late producer Bob Johnston (Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, etc.).  You can read “Is It Rolling, Bob?: Remembering Producer Bob Johnston” over at NPR.
  • As you may recall, JH participated in a unique concert event with The Cincinnati Pops OrchestraAmerican Originals celebrated the work of songwriter Stephen Foster and also featured guests like Rosanne Cash and Over The Rhine.  Now the American Originals performances are slated for release on September 11, and you can hear Joe’s rendition of “O! Susannah” over at The Wall Street Journal.  Pre-order the album here.
  • A recent article about songwriter (and Houston native) Hayes Carll suggests that he will enlist JH as producer for his next record, to be recorded in LA in September (later confirmed by JH on Twitter).  As a longtime fan of Carll’s work, this is pretty exciting news to me, and I can’t wait to hear what they cook up together.  (Thanks to Stefan for the tip.)
    UPDATE:  Carll, who is appearing at the Houston Press Music Awards show tonight, discusses his upcoming record with the Houston Press.  Definitely sounds like it will be a more introspective affair than his previous records.
  • Stefan also has info regarding Joe’s upcoming appearance at the Aarhus Festival in Denmark.  Check it out.
  • Don’t forget to check out Joe Henry’s 2015 productions, Bettye LaVette’s superlative Worthy and the equally stunning new record from Rodney Crowell and Emmylou Harris entitled The Traveling KindBirds of Chicago recorded their upcoming album at Garfield House (the last recording to be made there) and is probably on track for an early 2016 general release.

That’s it for now.  As always, let me know if you hear news in and around the world of Joe Henry!

UPDATE:  And I guess because it’s my blog and I get to post whatever I like, I’ll rattle off a few of my favorite 2015 record releases thus far, in no particular order:

  • Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free
  • The Milk Carton Kids – Monterrey
  • Ashley Monroe – The Blade
  • Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell – The Traveling Kind
  • Bettye LaVette – Worthy
  • Steve Earle & The Dukes – Terraplane
  • Rhiannon Giddens – Tomorrow Is My Turn
  • Allison Moorer – Down To Believing
  • Wilco – Star Wars
  • Lindi Ortega – Faded Gloryville

The Milk Carton Kids’ ‘Monterey’ out this week

TheMilkCartonKidsThis record doesn’t have a lot of direct Joe Henry associations (though he does contribute an essay to the liner notes), but The Milk Carton Kids have been championed by JH pretty much from the get-go (in fact, he contributed vocals to Pattengale’s solo record pre-dating The Kids).  The duo’s popularity has exploded since the release of their last album, The Ash & The Clay, but fans will not be disappointed in the follow-up, Monterey, which is out on Anti- Records just this week.

Monterey is a brisk listen and, in my opinion, by far their most cohesive.  It’s more than the sum of its excellent songs, and the flow from one track to the next contains an urgency you wouldn’t expect from such a low-key record.  Recorded on the road and self-produced, this album represents a perfecting of the format they’ve adopted for themselves.

I recall not too long ago that they had said that they definitely had one more pure acoustic duo album ahead of them, but beyond Monterey, I wonder if we should expect them to branch out musically.  Pattengale is a rather accomplished multi-instrumentalist, but they’ve been so successful at their craft, it should be interested to see where The Milk Carton Kids go from here.

That is, after they wrap up their extensive tour, which carries them through to the end of 2015.  In the meantime, by all means check out Monterey, as well as this performance of the title track from the studios of World Café:

Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell’s ‘The Traveling Kind’ out today

emmylou-rodney-extralarge_1427383873912Joe Henry adds a pretty serious Nashville record to his production resume today with the release of The Traveling Kind, the second duo record from Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell.  Which is not to say (obviously) that the album at all embraces the prevailing aesthetic of popular Nashville, but the album is a JH rarity in that none of his regular cohorts appear on it.  Instead, Harris and Crowell are surrounded by Music City stalwarts like guitarists Steuart Smith and Jedd Hughes and bassist Byron House.  It was recorded at Sound Emporium and The House of Blues, with recording and mixing by Justin Neibank.



To my ears, this record is both a continuation of and an improvement over their 2013 collaboration Old Yellow Moon.  Here are a few review links:

UPDATE III:  A great performance of “The Weight of the World” as performed for Rolling Stone (link also has a video for “The Traveling Kind”).  Jedd Hughes, who appears on the record and tours with the duo, provides lead guitar.

Joe Henry Early Spring Update

Well, it’s spring (isn’t it?), and there are a few exciting bits of news floating around the JH universe at the moment…

  • The new JH-produced duets album from Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell is titled The Traveling Kind and will be released by Nonesuch on May 12.  Pre-order here, and check out the title track over at Rolling Stone.
  • The Milk Carton Kids will release their highly anticipated new record on May 19.  It’s called Monterey and was recorded live in Nashville at the Downtown Presbyterian Church.  Oh, and of course JH provides his customary commentary to introduce the record – check it out here.
  • JH recently visited with Krista Tippett of On Being.  You can listen to the podcast and check out a live performance video of “Sparrow” here.
  • JH also had a great conversation with Kyle Meredith on The Weekly Feed.  Check it out below…

That’s all I got for now, folks!

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.