Eric Heywood, Pedal Steel Master

IMG_3067I had the immense good fortune Friday night of catching Tift Merritt at The Mucky Duck in Houston, where she played two full sets.  Merritt resides pretty high on my list of singer-songwriters alongside folks like Joe Henry (there's a stunning live bootleg floating around out there of Tift singing Dylan's "Hard Rain's Gonna Fall" with JH accompanying her on acoustic guitar, part of a NYC I'm Not There celebration).

Anyway, the shows were phenomenal, and I sat about two feet from pedal steel and guitar player Eric Heywood, who has toured and recorded with Merritt for a couple of years now.  He is on a very short list of in-demand steel players who has played on many fantastic records.  Since most of the music I love today sprung from that mid-1990's No Depression explosion, I must owe Heywood a cosmic debt because he played on some of my favorite records of that period (Richard Buckner's Since being chief among them).  He more recently lavished some gorgeous pedal steel upon John Doe & The Sadies' Country Club, which has become an enduring favorite of mine over the past few years.

IMG_3090After the show, Eric was kind enough to chat with me for a while, and I mentioned the blog.  He is fairly deeply connected with the same circle of musicians as JH, most recently due to his recording and touring with Ray LaMontagne and The Pariah Dogs, which also includes Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos and Greg Leisz (though Leisz did not tour with them, to my recollection).  But even I didn't realize he toured with JH during the Short Man's Room/Kindness Of The World period and recorded with him on Fireman's Wedding and Trampoline.  Most recently, Heywood added pedal steel to Lisa Hannigan's Passenger, appearing on the track "Safe Travels".

IMG_3070I just wanted to give some recognition to yet another talented musician who can be counted among Joe Henry's trusted confederates.  Check out this 2008 interview with Heywood from No Depression, and marvel at the sheer number of great recordings he has contributed to over the years, here and here.

And be sure to catch Tift Merritt if she heads your way so you can check out her wonderful band for yourself.

UPDATE 2/18/13:  And just in case you've seen Tift Merritt with Mr. Heywood recently, and you were wondering what that beautiful Tele he plays is ("Why, yes, DK – I was wondering that."), check out the website for Creston Guitars where his guitar has its own page.  I was in Burlington, VT, last year for Grace Potter's Grand Point North music festival, and several of the local acts were outfitted with Creston guitars.  Turns out Creston has followers well beyond the borders of Vermont!  Please excuse the guitar geekery.

UPDATE:  Here's a really nice video of Ms. Merritt and Mr. Heywood performing "Small Talk Relations" together on a recent episode of Last Call with Carson Daly (taped at The Troubadour in LA):

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.

Joe Henry @ Largo (October 11, 2011; Los Angeles)

LargoWell, I thought a little time and distance might reflect some objectivity on my part.  Alas, I suppose you should no more expect a "show review" here any more than you might expect an "album review."

However, I think an objective observer would agree that the Coronet Theatre - Largo's current home – is undoubtedly one of the finest listening rooms in North America (or the world?), much as the old Largo location was.  The staff is courteous and professional, while reminding everyone that chatter and photography are not welcome.  At around 150 seats, the Coronet still qualifies as ridiculously intimate, and what better venue could possibly host the live premiere of Reverie in its entirety?

The rough edges of the new record shone through in the live performance, though with world class musicians like Jay Bellerose, David Piltch and Keefus Ciancia in tow, one could hardly expect anything less than stellar.  Having never seen Joe Henry live before (no, seriously), I was perhaps a bit surprised how animated and energetic he was as singer and guitarist.  But otherwise, the evening was predictably beautiful and revelatory, and – for an event that can now be marked off my personal bucket list – absolutely exceeded all of my expectations.

The trip was all the more memorable since I got the chance to meet and hang out a bit with fellow blogger Josh Hurst of The Hurst Review.  We got to chat with both Joe himself and Jay Bellerose, who seems to me a quiet and thoughtful guy, not necessarily traits you would expect in such a monster drummer.  Of course, Jay is in such a class of his own as a musician, one should probably expect the unexpected.  I'm also pretty sure he owns the world's biggest tambourine.

I hope it goes without saying that if Joe Henry makes it to your town, jump at the chance to see him.



Well, the long wait is over, and Reverie hits the proverbial record racks today.  I'm pretty sure this one will be universally embraced by the Joe Henry faithful, and by all means, please feel free to drop me a line or – better yet – let us read your reactions to the new record in the comments section of the blog.

You can order the album from most of your usual outlets (CD: Amazon, Anti-, Europe; Vinyl: Amazon, Anti-, MusicDirect; Digital: iTunes, Amazon).  The LP set also ships with a CD copy (though, strangely, no liner notes).

JH's website has also gotten a makeover in honor of the album's release.  Kudos to Brian Ed Sauer, the tireless site administrator (VERY nice job — I like the updated look).

As is generally the case, reviews for a new JH come in at a thoughtful pace (I'm sure owing to the fact that critics want to soak in all the details, right?).  I'll try to keep this listing of reviews and articles somewhat updated throughout the week…

Four stars from American Songwriter

American Songwriter's Hal Horowitz awards Joe Henry's Reverie four stars:

In Reverie, Joe Henry and his group have created a raw, raucous and messy masterpiece. It emerges from the heart and soul of musicians locked into each other’s vibe, playing off each other and allowed the freedom to wander within the haunting music’s beautiful, imposing, expansive yet stark and often subtle boundaries.

Andy Whitman’s review of ‘Reverie’

Writer Andy Whitman has reviewed Reverie over at his blog.  You might recall that Whitman wrote the latest press bio for Joe Henry.  

I sort of think of him and Josh Hurst as the two leading authorities on JH's music.  So you won't generally be surprised by their positive reviews of his work, but I bet there's a good chance you'll gain some deeper insight.

And don't forget also that Jeffrey Overstreet recently published a similarly insightful review over at Response magazine.

Josh Hurst’s epic review of ‘Reverie’

I suppose you may have guessed that writer Josh Hurst is an occasional correspondent of mine.  I don't recall precisely when we started exchanging musical ideas (I'm sure it was either his writing about Joe Henry or Sam Phillips that initially tipped me off to his work), but we have kept in touch over the years.  He is the tireless curator of his own music review site The Hurst Review and often contributes to Christianity Today and several other publications.

You are not likely to find a more eloquent dissector of Joe Henry's work.  Further proving this point, he has now written what will almost certainly be the definitive analysis of Reverie.

Happily, he and I will both be in LA next week for JH's record release show at Largo, giving me yet another reason to be excited for the trip.