New Joe Henry Album – ‘Reverie’ (October 11)

Hot off the press – and in JH's own words – comes news of a brand new Joe Henry album entitled 'Reverie', due October 11 on Anti- Records…


Dear friends of the fourth estate. I thought it might be a good idea to bring news and announce my intentions to you directly, since time is short and we all are on a deadline.  

I am here to tell you that I have a new album, Reverie, releasing October 11, 2011 on Anti- Records. It is my 12th full-length record, and my fourth for that esteemed Los Angeles-based label that thrives despite a tombstone as its parent company’s logo. 

Reverie is an all-acoustic production, though I will confess to you (as I already have to my parents) that it is a raw and raucous and messy affair. It had to be: the songs animating its body are themselves disheveled and unsettled; stitched together like one living scarecrow made from five…its arms and legs of varying lengths, head held with bailing wire, but still determined to run in the Labor Day picnic’s race for charity, poor thing. 

When the songs that make up this album began to identify themselves as sharing a central being, I started listening for its unifying voice that would direct me to the musical landscape upon which it might somehow flourish. I knew it should be stripped and lean but not demur, sonically speaking; in black and white, but not without red blood in its veins; and would best be conjured by a very few attending musicians, all friends as well. During a Thanksgiving dinner party at the home of drummer Jay Bellerose this past fall, Jay and I found we’d each been privately pouring over the Duke Ellington/Max Roach/Charles Mingus collaborative album entitled Money Jungle, on which the trio play a game of catch with love, fire and brimstone, becoming a single runaway train on its way to crashing a prom dance –the terse romanticism and dark beauty they intimately but loudly unspool seeming very much to the point of something I wanted to describe and believe inherent to my new batch of songs. To a man, all their conflicted and glorious humanity is on display, is what I mean; and I have pledged my allegiance to that posture.

As result, four of us –Jay, bassist David Piltch, pianist Keefus Ciancia, and me— along with engineer Ryan Freeland, met in my basement studio for three days of exploration in late January. I promised myself upon beginning that I didn’t care whether or not I came out of it with a finished album –with ten songs or two in my basket— as long as I laid my finger on something with a ghostly pulse that would whisper sweet affirmation back from across the great divide. My whole agenda was to feed songs into a fire and see them go up.

We set up not only in the same room, but as close together as we could physically manage; the noise we each made spilling heavily into the space of the others, committing us to full performances and blurring the lines between us. Additionally, and perhaps in response to the frequent anxiety I shoulder regarding noise in the ‘hood when producing other artists in my own studio, I left all the windows open –inviting barking dogs, fighting birds and postal deliveries all to stand and be counted, to be heard as part of the fabric of the music –the way I always hear it around here. Though rarely autobiographical in nature, none of these songs, in fact, exist apart from my day-to-day life that allows them; and as such, there is no silence to be found on this record, only the outer world rising to speak as the songs descend.

The three days yielded ten songs, and that could’ve felt complete enough all considered, had I not turned both greedy and giddy. That, and I realized our friend Marc Ribot was due to be passing through town in March, and a few songs left waiting might be well served by his particular and wiry racquet; thus we convened for an additional afternoon with Marc’s acoustic guitar replacing the piano as the story’s tragic-but-lovable supporting character, and then I rolled the credits the following morning with some lost-world underscoring from singer Jean McClain, and a brief soliloquy given air and a smear of lipstick by Patrick Warren’s pump organ. 

I did allow myself one final theatrical touch, made possible by the kindness of a new friend and the marvel of technology: after packing it a proverbial trout sandwich for the journey, I sent the song “Piano Furnace” to Dublin and the great singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, for whom I had just produced an album –and of whom I am justifiably enamored— so that she might lift a few words from my wobbly shoulders, and illuminate them with her indelible spirit.

And then the curtain came down. 

What remains is an album more lifelike –fuming and nervously ticking— than any I have perhaps ever managed. It speaks about time, I now notice (though not exclusively, and not because I have recently turned 50, I honestly don’t think): the way that it bobs and weaves and cracks wise…is a subtitle to all circumstance and conversation; the uninvited guest attending our every quiet moment and dinner dance, both pushy and unshakable.

This is not a complaint, I hasten to add: time is the great river that reminds us we are buoyant, after all, as its moving current lifts us by the chin and just off of the balls of our feet, while we scrape and strain to dig our toes into the sandy ground. It is the source of morality and joy, all sorrow and desire; the price of our determination and the measure of surrender; the falling star trailed after by gypsies; and I am not convinced that any song exists without some knowing nod in its direction. 

I am nodding, then –to time, but also to all the love, hope, despair, and revelation that stands naked inside its weather. Time marches on, yes; but it hikes us up onto its wide shoulders in passing, if we are willing to ride, offering a staggering view of the horses. 
















EyeS OUT foR YoU


THE world AND ALL i KNOW**


Produced by Joe Henry

Recorded, mixed, and mastered by Ryan Freeland



Joe Henry – acoustic guitar and vocals

Keefus Ciancia – piano

David Piltch – upright bass

Jay Bellerose – drums



Marc Ribot – acoustic guitar and National ukulele (*)

Patrick Warren – pump organ (**)

Jean McClain – backing vocals 


Special guest:

Lisa Hannigan – vocals (†)




Let's just call it what it is — the Best Album of 2009, and one of the best records – alongside Henry's 2007 release Civilians – of the decade.

In stores today, but you can download it from Amazon for only $8.99.  If, like me, you pre-ordered an autographed copy from Bull Moose Music, you might already have the CD in your hands (no more autographed copies available, but they still have it on sale for $9.97 + $2.50 shipping).

Josh Hurst has a very nice roundup of the best reviews so far (and don't forget to check out Josh's own very excellent review).

UDPATE:  JH's website has gotten the obligatory makeover.  You can listen to the album in its entirety from the front page.

Joe Henry’s ‘Civilians’ (2007)

Joe_michaelwilson My intent for this post was actually to start with some thoughts on Joe Henry's album Trampoline, the first JH record I ever bought and the one most credited for "redefining" his sound.

But after listening to Trampoline again for the first time in a while, I can confidently say that it is an excellent album with abundant charms, but it pales in comparison to Henry's subsequent records.  Civilians, on the other hand, has continued to dig its claws into me time and again, almost two years after its release.

When I was compiling my Best of 2007 lists at the end of that year, I was torn between Civilians and Patty Griffin's Children Running Through when deciding my favorite album of the year.  I still love Griffin's record, but it hasn't remained in near-constant rotation the way Civilians has.  At this point, I don't mind calling Civilians my favorite album of the past five years (with Sam Phillips' A Boot and A Shoe just recently passing its five year anniversary).

The album stands out in the Henry discography for a few reasons, but its most obvious trait is that it's Henry's most musically straightforward effort since Kindness Of The World, his last record to fall roughly into the "alt-country" genre.  But Civilians is in no way a throwback to his early efforts.  It retains the lyrical sharpness of Tiny Voices and Scar, and the arrangements are often more complex and layered than they initially sound upon first listen.  Guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz sprinkle all kinds of texture on the songs, and Patrick Warren's piano coaxes subtle beauty out of the simplest chords.  To say nothing of drummer Jay Bellerose, who is indisputably the best percussionist on the planet.

I've puzzled over the lyrics on Civilians quite a bit, trying to explain why this album grips me so much.  I suppose I could boil it – and the appeal of many JH records – down to the fact that his imagery and metaphor is specific and rich without being trite or obvious.  The most specific example I can offer is the role that garage door springs – yes, garage door springs – play in "Our Song" and what they come to represent at the end of the song.  Not only does Henry fill mundane objects with meaning, his themes could just as easily represent America as a whole or the couple portrayed in the song (Willie Mays and his wife) or perhaps or own families.  The song is the virtual embodiment of a "universal theme" that cuts directly to the personal.  In that way, Civilians is different from much of Henry's other work, especially the almost Fellini-esque imagery of its predecessor Tiny Voices (I'm not sure what a drunk businessman in a hotel pool represents, but it's sure to give me lots to talk about in a future blog post).

A poster over at Arts & Faith, a message board that follows JH somewhat closely, recently questioned whether some other posters were trying to shoehorn Civilians into a masterworks trilogy that would also include Henry's upcoming album Blood From Stars (note: why Christians are so drawn to Henry's work might make a good blog post as well).  I can only respond that, to my ears, Civilians stands apart – and in many ways, above – Henry's other work due its directness and relative nakedness.  It's no less muscially challenging than, say, Scar or Tiny Voices, but it is most certainly less obtuse.  That poster will most likely find much to love in Blood From Stars (as I do myself), but if Civilians is not wholly representative of Joe Henry's discography, it is arguably his most heartfelt work.  A few critics have already implied that Blood From Stars is his best album yet, but I'd be hard-pressed to rank it higher than Civilians.  However, the beauty of Joe Henry's work is that it simply cannot be represented by a single album, no matter how perfect.  It says something that fans might argue which album – or albums – qualify as such.