If there was a silver lining to the sudden passing of Allen Toussaint late last year, it was the news that he had just completed a record with producer Joe Henry. Toussaint was deeply connected to Joe Henry for the last decade of his life, with the two collaborating on multiple projects including The River In Reversewith Elvis Costello and Toussaint’s own late-period masterpiece The Bright Mississippi.
Now comes word that Nonesuch will release their final collaboration, American Tunes, on June 10. This long-gestating project includes Toussaint’s take on songs by many New Orleans and American song giants, such as Professor Longhair, Duke Ellington and Paul Simon. The record is anchored by the rhythm section of Jay Bellerose and David Piltch, with Greg Leisz, Charles Lloyd, Rhiannon Giddens, Bill Frisell and Van Dyke Parks. The album was recorded during two sessions: the first in New Orleans in 2013 and the second in Los Angeles in October, 2015.
As you may recall, JH participated in the first ever Fretboard Summit in November of 2015. No doubt, many magical moments took place at this unique event, and you can get a glimpse of it now. Here is a video of JH performing “Eyes Out For You” accompanied by the incomparable Bill Frisell on guitar.
Joe also conducted an amazing interview with David Crosby, and a podcast of that hourlong discussion can be found at FJ’s archive or on iTunes (Podcast #92). The location for the 2nd Annual Fretboard Summit will be announced in late January.
In other Frisell news, he will release a new album on January 29. When You Wish Upon A Star is his very unique spin on classic film music.
And after guesting on Lucinda Williams’ 2014 release Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, Frisell will appear on all but one track on her new record Ghosts of Highway 20, due on February 5. Like its predecessor, it was co-produced by longtime JH cohort Greg Leisz, who also contributes guitar and pedal steel throughout. Frisell will join Lucinda for her March 4 performance at UCLA’s Royce Hall.
In its most recent newsletter, Fretboard Journalrevealed that Joe Henry will interview multi-instrumentalist Greg Leisz in the upcoming issue, which is due for shipment in the coming weeks. You can subscribe or purchase issues here (there is also a digital iTunes edition available).
Leisz’s playing graced Invisible Hour, and he has long been one of Joe Henry’s go-to players on both his records (see also Civilians) and his productions. Leisz toured last year with Eric Clapton, and he co-produced the new Lucinda Williams record, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone (due Sep. 30) as well as contributed string work to every track on the album. He is arguably the most in-demand pedal and lap steel player on the planet.
Just a few odds and ends out of the Joe Henry universe (and nearby galaxies)…
First, JH and Levon should be wrapping up their brief Australian tour, which has been accompanied by some favorable press (a particularly nice article and interview in the Sydney Morning Herald).
JH will be returning stateside to appear very shortly thereafter at the Americana Music Festival in Nashville. Joe’s official showcase will be at City Winery on September 18, but I’m sure he’ll be seen around the festival elsewhere.
JH recently participated in a social media fundraising campaign for MusicCares. Various artists challenged three friends to post a picture of themselves with an album “that has made your life better” (along with a $5 donation to MusicCares). Stefan has the low-down over at his blog.
A few notes from some friends and associates…
Over The Rhine will be releasing yet another Christmas album. Blood Oranges in the Snow will be released on Nov. 4 and is described by Karin and Linford as “reality Christmas.” (I don’t believe that JH had any hand in its production, but well worth your attention nonetheless.)
The Milk Carton Kids will be touring this fall again with Sarah Jarosz, featuring “collaborative performances” between the artists. Full schedule here.
Some of you may know that I’m a shameless and die-hard Lucinda Williams fan. Her new record (the double-albumDown Where The Spirit Meets The Bone) will be released on her own label on September 30. At one time, JH was the rumored producer on this project. However, in his place, frequent JH accomplice and all-around string master Greg Leisz became the co-producer (along with Williams and manager Tom Overby) and also contributes his guitar wizardry to nearly every track. Bill Frisell, who collaborated with both JH and Leisz most notably on Civilians, lends his distinctive guitar work to two tracks (and is rumored to be featured on more tracks on yet another Lucinda record due sometime next year). Several tracks have made their way online through various outlets, but if you want to hear what magic Frisell and Leisz can conjure, feast your ears on the album’s closing track, a cover of JJ Cale’s “Magnolia” (nine-plus minutes long!). In my book, a Joe Henry album and Lucinda Williams album in the same year is pretty much all I could ask for.
And last but not least, this fall will see the release of two Bob Dylan projects. First, the long wished-for Complete Basement Tapes will be released on Nov. 4. A semi-related companion called Lost On The River: The New Basement Tapeswill be released on Nov. 11. That record will feature Dylan lyrics from the period written into songs and performed by a talented group comprised of Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddens, Jim James and Marcus Mumford. JH mentor T-Bone Burnett oversaw and produced the whole thing. No doubt, Joe Henry is smiling.
This was my third Joe Henry show at Largo in Los Angeles, and if you’ve ever attended one of these shows, you know they are something special – a hometown show in front of a rapt audience, including many friends and family. Saturday evening’s performances – an early acoustic solo set followed by a full band show – were no exception while also being quite exceptional. The chance to see two unique performances in one evening is rare enough; to see JH perform with some of his most trusted allies – Patrick Warren on piano, Levon Henry on sax and clarinet, Jennifer Condos on electric bass, Jay Bellerose on drums and percussive racket and Greg Leisz on acoustic guitar and lap slide guitar – is nothing short of amazing (not to mention increasingly rare due to the demand on these players’ schedules).
Naturally both sets featured many songs from the new release, Invisible Hour. JH was bristling with energy, humor and confidence during both sets, an impressive feat considering he’d played the night before in San Francisco. Largo audiences are simply the best listeners I’ve ever encountered at any venue in the United States, and I can’t really tell you anything about this show that isn’t obvious by my description so far. It was announced that Joe would sign CD’s after the show, and true to form, he sprung into the courtyard mere minutes after walking offstage to greet a sizable number of friends and fans. I said a very brief hello and goodnight, and I imagine that he was there until the early morning hours, friendly and courteous as always.
I’ve tried to recall the general setlist from my bleary-eyed memory (please send me corrections and omissions if you have any). I’ve denoted the songs as follows – *both sets, +acoustic set, ^band set:
Eyes Out For You*
Believer (new song described as a cross between “Amazing Grace” and “Let’s Get It On”)+
Our Song (piano)+
Lead Me On+
After The War+
God Only Knows (piano)+
Progress of Love^
All Blues Hail Mary (really awesome – probably my fave of the night)^
You Can’t Fail Me Now^
Encore – acoustic set:
Trampoline (with 14 yr old Charlie Hickey – really beautiful)+
Kindness of the World+
Encore – band set:
And, of course, JH and Levon are back on the road this week, starting with The Birchmere in D.C. this Tuesday. Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion will be joining him, and they are well worth catching as well.