Accolades

Joe Henry news & notes for week ending June 21

jhenry_pic4_lgIt’s another big week for Joe Henry fans, as JH kicks off his brief U.S. tour on Friday at San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall.  I’ll be in LA for the Saturday show at Largo (tickets still remain for both sets!).  A few other notes from the past couple of weeks…

  • Many kudos to Stefan for his coverage of the European tour and press stops.  He has even translated several interviews over the course of the tour.  A few great finds from his blog:
  • Here’s a nice preview article by Kimerly Chun in the San Francisco Chronicle.
  • Washington City Paper is giving away tickets to Tuesday’s show at The Birchmere (which will also feature Sara Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion).
  • A very thoughtful review by Walter Tunis in the Lexington Herald-Leader.

I imagine we’ll see a bit more stateside press as the tour kicks off.  If any readers are attending the show in LA, by all means drop me a line and say hi while you’re there.

A new year, and new slate of Joe Henry projects

Happy belated New Year to all of you!  I guess 2012 seemed like a quiet year for Joe Henry fans.  Though it should be noted that JH probably toured more last year – solo and with Lisa Hannigan – than he has in quite a few years.

First, I should say I don't have any inside scoop on Joe Henry's upcoming schedule.  However, based on his periodic Facebook postings, I think it's a safe bet that 2013 will see the release of more projects with JH's name than in 2012.

Yesterday brought word that Joe's longtime friendship (and frequent collaboration schemes) with Billy Bragg will bear fruit in the form of a new Bragg album titled Tooth & Nail (due in the UK on March 18; in the US on March 19).  The record was recorded early last year at Garfield House with some of the House regulars – Greg Leisz, Patrick Warren, David Piltch and Jay Bellerose.  You can find all the relevant info and download the track "Handyman Blues" here.

It appears also that JH is ringing in the new year with sessions for the follow-up to Hugh Laurie's very successful Let Them Talk.  It seemed unthinkable to me that, after developing such an obviously fruitful template for Laurie's first album, the two would not reteam eventually.  I cannot wait to hear what comes of the sessions – we already know that the legendary Taj Mahal dropped by for some recording.  Normally, I would assume the new record would definitely see the light of day in 2013, but Let Them Talk was recorded over a few sessions, and Laurie probably keeps a pretty full calendar.  But here's hoping sooner rather than later.

In late 2012, sessions were held at Garfield House with ex-Byrd/Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman and T Bone Burnett in attendance.  I don't know or recall what the project is, but I can't wait to find out.

Finally, if you are an Over The Rhine fan, you might have noticed that they are prepping a similar fundraising campaign for their next two project, similar to what was done for The Long Surrender.  I'll just selfishly hope and pray that they enlist JH to once again helm their next album.

There is still a TV biopic of June Carter Cash in the works (originally due last November).  My understanding is that JH produced some of the "early Carter Family years" tracks, with singer-songwriter John Doe playing the role of AP Carter.  Singer Jewel Kilcher (aka Jewel) portrays June Carter Cash, but I don't believe Joe had any hand in those tracks.  The Lifetime Network was set to air the movie, but it has fallen off the radar a bit.

And don't forget that JH honed his acting chops in 2012, portraying a – gasp! – musician in Robert A. Borders' forthcoming Pleased To Meet Me.  It's probably reasonable to expect that this film sees some kind of release in the near future.

Finally, Bonnie Raitt's very successful Slipstream is up for a Best Americana Album Grammy, and I'm betting is a shoe-in for that category (which probably just jinxed it).

So welcome back, and I'll keep you updated as I hear about it.  If Joe's trend since 2007 holds, we'll get a new Joe Henry album sometime in late summer or early fall of this year… but that's just me speculating and maybe lobbying a bit.

New Joe Henry bio, by Andy Whitman

Andy Whitman has written a rather wonderful new bio to accompany the press for Joe Henry's new album Reverie (due October 11 from Anti-).  Whitman is a frequent contributor to Paste and Christianity Today and, alongside writers like Josh Hurst, has been a great supporter of JH's work for many years.  Enjoy…

If an artist is known by the company he keeps, then Joe Henry must have baffled more than a few people. Over a career that spans more than two decades, the critically acclaimed songwriter and Grammy-winning producer has recorded albums that have been loosely and inaccurately categorized as rock, folk, jazz, and alt-country, and has worked with artists as diverse as Ornette Coleman, Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint, The Jayhawks, Solomon Burke, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Brad Mehldau, Mavis Staples, and Madonna. Good luck trying to find the common musical denominator in those lists. Perhaps “great” is the best one can do, and Joe Henry is probably quite content to keep it that way.

Reverie, Henry’s twelfth album, continues the eclectic, uncategorizable streak, and is the latest installment in willful genre obliteration and poetic exploration. Like most of the albums he’s made for the past decade, Reverie is lounge music of a sort, but it’s music from the coolest lounge in the universe, the one where the piano player quotes T.S. Eliot and Raymond Chandler before last call, and where the patrons all drink their bourbon neat and play Tom Waits on the jukebox between sets. Call it lounge noir if you must, but whatever it is it’s desperate, and desperately tender, tinged with an aching sadness and the flicker of hope, with the increasing awareness that the small dramas enacted here and now are not really small at all, and that they echo and ripple through our lives.

Aided and abetted by the musicians who have now played with him for the better part of a decade – drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist David Piltch, pianist Keefus Ciancia, and guitarist Marc Ribot – Joe Henry unfurls his songs of memory and longing, cinematic detail and impressionistic transcendence. Like the best poets, his imagery is both unequivocally explicit and sublimely grand, attuned to big themes even as he limns the interchangeable days of ordinary people. He captures tiny, specific moments with a master painter’s precision – an old Henry Fonda film projected against the side of a bank, the back door of a hotel propped open by a kitchen worker’s foot – but those moments serve as gateways to something deeper and richer; seemingly insignificant gestures and memories transformed into epiphanies of self-awareness and compassion toward the wider world. That’s not bad for a piano trio with a gonzo guitarist. Or for a man whose phrasing is a bit like Sinatra’s, but who writes the blues like Langston Hughes.

The evolution has been anything but linear. The early albums, deeply indebted to Bob Dylan and folk-rock anthems, gave way to sparse, acoustic ruminations, which gave way to pedal steel and poetry, which gave way in turn to whatever it is that Joe Henry has been doing since Trampoline, the 1996 album that marked a transitional turning point. Mostly he makes a lovely racket, the music reminiscent of both Tom Waits’ trashcan symphonies and the great improvisational piano trios of Duke Ellington and Bill Evans.

There are love songs on these albums, inevitably, and they sound like the songs of real people in real relationships, people who bicker and snipe at one another, who can’t stand one another, and who often can’t stand themselves, but who recognize the glory and the sweetness of the light when they see it. And there are songs written in other voices. Joe Henry is anything but a reliable narrator, and his storytelling voice is as likely to reflect the mind of a creepy pedophile at a swimming pool, or a desperate drug addict, as it is an award-winning, urbane songwriter named Joe Henry. The songs stand alone and together, each a self-contained little poetic gem, but each also commenting on the others. The images recur and shift, and the same phrase takes on a different meaning in a different context. In other words, this is a man who still makes albums as albums. Remember those?

Mostly these are the songs of conflicted human beings, and nobody writes songs about conflicted human beings better than Joe Henry. A few albums back he wrote one about Richard Pryor that pretty much set the standard for how to portray self-absorbed jerks and geniuses who inhabit the same body, then he did it all over again with a song about Charlie Parker, surely nobody’s idea of a saint, but a marvelously gifted musician who was touched by the divine just the same. He does it on Reverie with a song about the sad, suicidal genius Vic Chesnutt, a paraplegic musician and songwriter of uncommon wit and humor, and a close observer of twisted humanity.

This is the mysterious, seductive alchemy of Joe Henry’s music. “My hands are wet from walking,” Henry sings, this time in the voice of Vic Chesnutt in his wheelchair, and the world opens up, as it tends to do in his songs, in unexpected and startling ways. He’s been doing this for a long time now, but the epiphanies are always fresh and new.

 

JH featured in Steve Almond’s ‘Rock And Roll Will Save Your Life’

"There was a time when women may have wanted to have my babies.  Now it's just middle-aged men who want my guitar pick.  Or want to take me home and play me their Joe Henry records."

Chuck Prophet, as quoted in Rock And Roll Will Save Your Life

Author/essayist Steve Almond has penned a tribute to what he calls "drooling fanaticism," and naturally Joe Henry gets a chapter in the book.  You can read more about the book at Almond's site.  Also be sure to check out the "Bitchin' Soundtrack" section on the site, where you can hear a demo version of JH's "Our Song."

My copy only arrived today, but I can tell you from a quick glance that this is pretty hilarious, heartfelt stuff.

UPDATE:  Finished Almond's book, and I absolutely loved it.  He's my new hero… or maybe mentor.  His drooling fanaticism makes something like starting a Joe Henry blog seem only mildly obsessed by comparison.  I'll assume that if you're visiting this site, you'll find much to appreciate in it as well.

Tearing Down The Walls (Huffington Post)

Leonce Gaiter has a rather interesting take on the music of JH over at HuffPo.

UPDATE:  I just noticed that you can download Leonce Gaiter's novel Bourbon Street for $4.00 on Amazon's Kindle (appears to be out of print otherwise).  I haven't read it (yet), but the description sounds pretty doggone good.  And we know Gaiter has great taste in music.