Joe Henry Early Fall Update… and a brief note

Ed. Note:  I hope this post finds you all well as summer winds down (hopefully sooner for you than for those of us on the Texas Gulf Coast).  If you have stumbled upon this, you might also have noticed how neglected the blog has been in the past few months.  That is due, thankfully, not to any particular life change or tragedy but simply to the never-ending encroachment of real life into the borders of my virtual one.  As such, the time has probably arrived to sort of wind down the blog.

When I started this endeavor, it was mainly with the notion that Joe Henry was a criminally unsung talent.  It has been my great pleasure over the years to see that as less and less of a concern as JH’s reputation and stature has continued to grow and solidify amongst his peers in the industry.  Furthermore, JH himself has become an engaging presence on Facebook, often keeping us apprised of his own projects.  And Stefan’s blog has continued to keep the flame burning when I’ve occasionally allowed mine to dim.

But mostly, I don’t wish to add another item to my list of unfinished or neglected tasks.  Silly as it seems to sign off on something that takes up precious little time, the simple fact is when I have 15 minutes to spare, I’d rather strum my guitar, read a book, walk a dog… almost anything other than sit in front of a computer.

However, I don’t want you to think for a moment that my passion for Joe’s music is in any way diminished.  Music remains the guiding light of my life, and I am fortunate to still be able to consume music often throughout the day.  I still wait on pins and needles to hear the latest project with JH’s fingerprints on it.

As you might imagine, my social media presence has also somewhat diminished, but you might still catch a report from a Joe Henry concert or an Over The Rhine festival.  And I still check my Twitter feed periodically to retweet out the latest JH happenings.  Many kind thanks to all of you have stopped by and often given me encouragement and shared your love of Joe Henry’s music.

With that out of the way, I’ll leave you with this post as we all look forward to the Friday release of Billy Bragg and Joe Henry’s new album, Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad.

  • Hopefully you have already heard the new solo song released by JH titled “Shook Up The World” dedicated to Muhammad Ali.  It was recorded in the studio very recently with JH’s usual conspirators, and he felt the song deserved to be heard in a timely manner.
  • You can hear Joe and Billy live from WXPN’s studios at Word Café Live
  • The two were the subject of a great article in American Songwriter
  • And on the cover of October’s Acoustic Guitar magazine
  • Chely Wright’s JH-produced record I Am The Rain was released on September 9 – Stefan has a rundown of some great making-of videos for the album
  • Check back later in the week, and I’ll post a rundown of reviews for Shine A Light as they roll in.  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with Joe and Billy’s performance of “Gentle On My Mind”

Steve Dawson interviews Joe Henry (Parts 1 & 2)

You may have heard some of Steve Dawson’s wonderful recent interviews with Joe Henry cohorts like Ryan Freeland and Marc Ribot.  Now Dawson has posted Part 1 of an interview with Joe Henry for his podcast Music Makers and Soul Shakers.  Listen below, or at Dawson’s website (or on iTunes).

Josh Hurst reviews Allen Toussaint’s ‘American Tunes’ (out now)

Toussaint_MWilsonToday marks the release of the late Allen Toussaint’s follow-up to his Joe Henry-produced 2009 album The Bright Mississippi.  By now, you’ve read how the recording of American Tunes preceded Toussaint’s untimely passing by only a couple of weeks.  And Joe himself has indicated in interviews how Toussaint very nearly backed out of those final sessions.

Which is to say that American Tunes is not merely  a wonderful record – which it certainly is – but also a great blessing, allowing us to hear Allen Toussaint’s tremendous talent represented one last time.

So please enjoy this affecting review of American Tunes by our good friend and exceptional writer, Josh Hurst.

(More release day press and coverage in the post below.)

Interviews and reviews for Toussaint’s ‘American Tunes’

JH_AllenToussaint_2005Sadly, Joe Henry will shoulder much of the press responsibilities for the late Allen Toussaint’s final record, American Tunes, due this Friday on Nonesuch Records.

Here are couple of nice articles from Toussaint’s hometown of New Orleans, prominently featuring comments from JH:

And here’s an updated roundup of reviews for the album:

Allen Toussaint’s ‘American Tunes’ available to stream at NPR

Toussaint_MWilsonWith all of the excitement surrounding Nowhere Else Fest, let’s not forget that Allen Toussaint’s final album of recordings American Tunes will be released on June 10.  You can listen to the whole thing over at NPR Music.

I had the chance to hear it in its entirety over the weekend, and I can tell you it is a worthy successor to The Bright Mississippi but also very much its own thing.  Toussaint’s death was a shock to all, but it is substantial comfort to hear the master one last time.

Recap: Nowhere Else Festival (May 27-29, Nowhere Farm, OH)

IMG_7597I half-joked this morning to my good friend Josh Hurst that Nowhere Else Fest might better be described as a backyard barbecue that got a little out of hand, rather than a music festival in any familiar sense of the term.  Perhaps more generally, one might just call it a celebration of community.

To longtime Over The Rhine fans, particularly those based in and around the band’s home base of southwest Ohio, this community is quite tangible.  As Nowhere Farm and adjacent Nowhere Else continue to take shape, OtR have given this community – along with their loyal brothers and sisters, dispersed throughout the world – a place to gather, eat, drink, listen, converse, sing, dance and celebrate.  This year marked the first time that Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler expanded the scope of this gathering to include many of their friends, who happen also to be some of the most extraordinary artists in the world.

Among this community, I am a bit late to the game, having been a fan for only about half of their quarter century career.  But I was very much a supporter long before their paths crossed that of Joe Henry.  It was a thrill for me when they sought him out to produce The Long Surrender (and re-enlisted him for the follow-up Meet Me At The Edge Of The World), but it has been incredibly gratifying to witness the bond that they have forged in the past few years.  There were many connected dots at Nowhere Else Fest, and many of those connections could be traced back to Joe Henry as much as Over The Rhine.

I am not being coy when I tell you that a thorough daily breakdown would be far too daunting (and potentially boring) to undertake here.  The festival essentially began Friday night with a VIP event that included food, drink and an insanely intimate performance by OtR.  They were, as they were all weekend, joined by The Band Of Sweethearts, which includes Jay Bellerose on drums, Brad Meinerding on guitars, Eric Heywood on pedal steel and Jennifer Condos on bass.  Many of these astounding musicians pulled double-duty by joining The Comet Bluegrass All-Stars (in Brad’s case) and Joe Henry (in Eric, Jen and Jay’s case).  The festival-proper kicked off, bright and early, around 10am on Saturday with a number of events, which included a seminar with master photographer Michael Wilson and nature painter Rebecca Weller, not to mention an emotional reading by Barry Moser from his memoir We Were Brothers.  We were then treated to a lovely kickoff set by OtR, which set the stage for all kinds of incredible musical moments, which would simply threaten to eclipse one another throughout the weekend.  Here are only a few…

IMG_7598Joe Henry:  Acoustic set on Saturday, joined by Levon Henry for most of it.  What more could a JH fan ask for?  How about a Sunday morning songwriting seminar that stretched nearly two hours?  I’m sure I have mentioned many times how generous Joe Henry is with him time, but it was a rare treat indeed to hear his philosophy on songwriting (and life?) in such an incredible setting, nestled as we were in the loft of OtR’s barn, future home to intimate performances, recordings and who-knows-what-else.

Then came his Sunday set, effectively opening for The Blind Boys of Alabama.  Josh and I agreed that perhaps it was the best show we’ve ever seen by Joe – loose, wild, intense and exuberant.  He was joined by Jen, Jay, Levon, and, for a few numbers, by Eric Heywood on pedal steel (“Plainspeak” was revealed to be a loping honky-tonk number).  Then to cap it off, he invited JT and Allison from Birds of Chicago to join him for a smoking rendition of John Prine’s “Storm Windows.”  Who else, but Joe Henry, could reimagine “Storm Windows” as a semi-gospel rave-up, not the least bit unlike the many versions of The Band’s “The Weight” that you’ve heard so many times?  It was, very possibly, the musical highlight of a weekend completely jam-packed with them.

But, of course, there was…

IMG_7601 (1)Birds of Chicago:  You will not speak to a soul at Nowhere Else Fest who will fail to rant, rave and tug at your coattail with tales of wonder and revelation, served from the altar of Birds of Chicago.  I will wager that they came into this festival as the relative unknown and left as the band on the tip of everyone’s tongue.  Their Saturday set was a reminder that live performance can aspire to something approaching a tent revival, assuming you believe that music is but one of many ways that the Divine reveals Himself to our eyes and ears.  But even if you don’t… Birds of Chicago were simply a force of nature.  Look at it this way:  they have released arguably the best record of the year (Real Midnight, produced by Joe Henry), and easily my favorite song of 2016 (“Remember Wild Horses”), and, yet, I was wholly unprepared for how powerful the band would be in a live setting.  Birds of Chicago are getting ready to hit the summer folk festival circuit, and they will spend most of the summer re-printing t-shirts and CD’s.

But, of course, there was…

IMG_7566Over The Rhine:  What.  A.  Vision.  The journey to this festival has been an act of sheer will on the part of Karin and Linford.  One can hardly imagine what they were thinking years ago when this journey began, but the rest of us are the beneficiaries of their foresight, which appreciated their community perhaps more than anyone else.  They played set after set, stunning their seasoned audience each time.  But, of course, OtR fans have come to expect nothing less.  Did I mention that Levon Henry repeatedly joined the band on saxophone and seemed to take his playing to new heights each time?

Over The Rhine have ventured into uncharted territory with this music and arts festival, and I don’t envy them their task for next year: somehow conceive an event that matches the power of this year’s Nowhere Else Fest without wholly repeating it.

Or just repeat it – please, just do.

IMG_7508(And, yet, I have failed to mention: workshops with Michael Wilson and Barry Moser, a lovely set by Lily & Madeleine, the always-charming Lucy Wainwright Roche, Levon Henry’s revelatory solo set, the stunning art of Melanie Ciccone.  The candid and touching discussion of music and healing, featuring Jeffrey A. Ward.  And the many lovely family and fans that I met this weekend.)

It was all there at Nowhere Else Fest — see you next year!

 

 

The Story Behind Allen Toussaint’s ‘American Tunes’

Nonesuch has posted a lovely essay by Michael Hill detailing the making of Allen Toussaint’s final album, American Tunes.  You can read several excerpts from the liner notes, including quotes by album producer Joe Henry.

American Tunes will be released on June 10.