Jay Bellerose

Joe Henry U.S. tour to kick off this week (and maybe the return of a blog?)

JH_Duke

First, the important stuff…

Joe Henry has a brilliant new album, Thrum, which was released at the end of October.  Though it mines similar musical territory as the albums he’s released in the past decade, it offers its own twists and turns.  To my ears, it combines the dark density of Blood From Stars with the intimacy of Invisible Hour.  Notably, it marks JH’s return to a recording studio, following his string of Garfield House records that began with Civilians.  What that all adds up to I’ll save for (hopefully) another blog post.

To mark the album’s fresh release, JH will embark on a whirlwind tour of the U.S., kicking off with an artistic residency in Durham, NC (Nov 30 – Dec 2, detailed in this Indy Week article).  Appropriately, Thrum will receive a full public airing at the Baldwin Auditorium on JH’s 57th birthday.

These performances will be followed up with North American performances as follows:

  • Dec 3 – Charleston, WV @ Mountain Stage
  • Dec 4 – Sellersville, PA @ Sellersville Theater
  • Dec 5 – Vienna, VA @ Jammin’ Java
  • Dec 7 – Boston, MA @ City Winery
  • Dec 8 – New York, NY @ Le Poisson Rouge
    show moved – Brooklyn, NY @ San Damiano Mission Church
  • Dec 9 – Woodstock, NY @ Levon Helm Studios
  • Dec 10 – Freehold, NJ @ Concerts in the Studio (accompanied only by Levon Henry)
  • Jan 13 – Los Angeles, LA @ The Sanctuary at Pico Union

A European solo tour will kick off on Feb. 1 in London.

Now, in case you might be wondering, is the Joe Henry Blog back or just poking its head out?  That’s a good question that would require a lot of backstory on my part.  What I can say is that my reasons for somewhat abandoning the blog are still valid, but I find myself occasionally wishing I had place to simply pour some of my JH-related thoughts.  Which is to say I feel no need to be a one-stop-shop for all JH news but maybe there are things I still need to say that adhere a bit closer to the original mission of this blog.  Maybe what I’ve always been wondering is how does my life and the world around me make more sense when there is a Joe Henry song pulsating somewhere in my mind.

Maybe it just felt strange to let the release of a Joe Henry album and the beginning of a tour pass by unremarked.  That’s enough reason for now.

I’ll leave you with this haunting performance by JH and Levon of “The Glorious Dead,” one of two songs on Thrum that incidentally made their debut more than three years ago at the Wild Edges show in Durham…

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!

 

 

Joe Henry Odds N Ends: Late Spring Edition

It’ll hit 90 degrees in Houston this week, so I figured time was running out to post any Late Spring JH news…

  • As previously mentioned, JH will appear at Over The Rhine’s Nowhere Else Festival over Memorial Day weekend.  You can get a clearer picture of what to expect at the festival’s website.
  • In addition to the new Allen Toussaint record (due June 10), there are several new production projects due in 2016:
    • Chely Wright’s new album I Am The Rain will be released in September.
    • Canadian singer-songwriter Rose Cousins has recorded a new record with JH and will be released later this year (you can pre-order the record from her website to receive it sometime prior the official release).
    • JH’s own website lists a new production from Austrian band Son of the Velvet Rat.
  • Stefan has a terrific new interview with Birds of Chicago, conducted while they were on tour in Europe.
  • JH will appear with Rosanne Cash on June 20 in Los Angeles at an event called Composed: The Intersection of Poetry and Song.  Reservations are closed but you can stand-by for admission on the day of the event.
  • JH will open for Rhiannon Giddens at her date this summer at Prospect Park Bandshell as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn! series (announcement on May 10).
    (UPDATE:  Sorry, this was from 2015 – my mistake.  But if you are going to be in the NYC area in July, why not check this out?)
  • There is an amazing interview with engineer Ryan Freeland, conducted by Steve Dawson for his Music Makers and Soul Shakers Podcast.  Dawson has also interviewed Bill Frisell, Mary Gauthier and, most recently, Marc Ribot.  (Also available on iTunes)
  • And speaking of Ribot, as you may recall, he and JH performed as a duo at the recent Big Ears Festival in Knoxville (read Josh Hurst’s review of the show here).  You can watch much of the performance on YouTube in four parts (see below).

Big thanks to Stefan Vandenberghe for keeping us updated when I am sometimes slacking off!

Allen Toussaint’s final recordings ‘American Tunes’ to be released June 10

Toussaint_AmericanTunesIf 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 Reverse with 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.

You can read the full press release at Nonesuch’s website.  The 2-LP vinyl edition will include three bonus tracks.  Pre-orders (from iTunes or Nonesuch) include an instant download of “Big Chief.”

I guess it goes without saying that this will be a tremendous release for fans of Allen Toussaint, not to mention those of us who particularly revered his work with Joe Henry.

And a little preview of the record…

Josh Hurst reviews Birds of Chicago’s ‘Real Midnight’

birds_of_chicagoI have to confess that I somewhat glossed over the release of Birds of Chicago’s Real Midnight back in February.  Having received the Kickstarter digital copy back in November, it just kind of fell below my radar when it was officially released.  In fact, I really only started spending quality time with the album over the past two weeks, and it is something quite special.

As luck would have it, our old friend, Josh Hurst, has revamped his own website and has just reviewed Real Midnight.  As he often does, he finds the perfect words to describe the spirit of this album.  As you may recall, Real Midnight was the final album recorded at Joe Henry’s Garfield House studio.  Jay Bellerose plays drums on the record, and Rhiannon Giddens provides vocals and fiddle on a couple of tracks.

Also, be sure to check out Josh’s recent reviews of Lucinda Williams’ The Ghosts of Highway 20 and Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Let Me Get By, two of my other favorite releases of 2016.

UPDATE:  Over The Rhine recently announced that Birds of Chicago will be joining the lineup of their Nowhere Else Festival over Memorial Day weekend (see below post for more details).

Also, you should definitely check out their recent Folk Alley Sessions.  Here’s “Remember Wild Horses”…

Joe Henry & Sam Phillips at Largo (Feb. 21, 2014, Los Angeles, CA)

[Below you can read my thoughts on the (historic?) pairing of Joe Henry and Sam Phillips at Largo at The Coronet last weekend.  You can also check out the recap from Randy Lewis of the LA Times (thanks to Jeffrey Overstreet for the link).]

I suppose I’ve tried to make it somewhat of a personal tradition to attend a Joe Henry show when it happens to be at Largo in West Hollywood.  The Coronet Theatre is, in my opinion, the finest listening room in the world, and JH has a long association with Largo, dating back to its original club location on N. Fairfax.  These days, it is sometimes the only place where you can see him collaborate with the highly respected (and in-demand) musicians who have appeared on many of his records.

Sam Phillips shares this association – and many others – with Joe Henry, and their pairing last Saturday at Largo was even more natural in reality than it would seem on paper.  These two extraordinary artists share not only common tastes in musicians but simply appear to have been cut from the same cosmic cloth as songwriters and performers.  The audience might have been fairly evenly divided between the artists’ respective (and devoted) fan bases, but their purpose felt entirely united throughout the evening.

The evening featured two shows, both topping two hours.  The first was a sold-out marathon, and the second was a more intimate reprise attended largely by diehards from the first performance.  The sets were similar, though the first likely was stretched a bit longer by the first public performance of JH’s “Sign” from Invisible Hour, easily one of his best and most epic songs.

Highlights from both sets included:

  • Sam Phillips opening each show with Stephen Merritt’s “Underwear”
  • Daughter Simone’s angelic vocals filtered with ethereal echo for “Cameras In The Sky”
  • Sam and Simone’s rendition of JH’s “Stop”, accompanied only by Eric Gorfain’s looped violin parts
  • The transition to Joe’s portion of the show with an acoustic duet on “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”
  • The acoustic arrangement of “Trampoline”
  • The touching tribute to both Malcolm X and Nina Simone (murdered and born, respectively, also on Feb. 21) with “All Blues Hail Mary”
  • JH’s rendition of Sam’s “Reflecting Light,” with a melody, according to Joe, “worthy of Nat Cole”
  • The encore featuring all players on Sam Phillips’ “One Day Late”

And, of course, to the surprise of nobody in attendance, the musicians onstage were the true highlight: Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos, Levon Henry, Patrick Warren and Eric Gorfain.  To those who recognize those names from their numerous collaborations with Joe and Sam, you already know that these players are truly miraculous.

I will admit that each time I’ve spent all morning on a plane from Texas to LA (usually with a turnaround the next day), I’ve wondered if it would be my last such trip.  Of course, humility should render the answer unknowable, in any case.  But so long as I have any say in the matter, I’m sure you’ve guessed that my answer is: no, probably not the last.

Bettye LaVette’s ‘Worthy’ out today

BettyeLaVette_WorthyWell, I’m only about three listens in to the exceptional, Joe Henry-produced new album by Bettye LaVette, but I’m more than comfortable placing Worthy in my personal Top Five Joe Henry Productions.  A true master class of song selection, production, pacing and performace, Worthy lives up to its title and then some. It’s hard to know where to start — certainly the additional decade of experience between JH and Bettye LaVette is on full display (remember that back in 2004 JH was actually a somewhat new name among hired producers).  As always, the players on a JH production play a key role.  Along with stellar support from Doyle Bramhall II, Chris Bruce and Jay Bellerose (and yes, Levon Henry contributes a horn arrangement to one track), I’d have to give the MVP nod to Patrick Warren’s piano, which adds perhaps the most unexpectedly distinctive voice to the songs. Of course, nothing can compare to LaVette’s uncanny ability to transform others’ songs into something quite her own.  Her interpretive gifts are a wonder to behold and this record more than justifies her place among the elite singers of our time. A few release day notes…

  • Bettye LaVette was slated to begin her two-week residency at Café Carlyle in NYC, but I believe tonight’s performance has been postponed or canceled due to the ongoing blizzard in the Northeast.  Check with the venue for confirmation and word on the rest of the week’s performances.
  • Jim Farber has a nice article on LaVette in the New York Daily News.
  • There’s a great piece in this month’s Mix Magazine, with JH and Ryan Freeland discussing the recording of Worthy.
  • You can hear the record in its entirety over at The Wall Street Journal.
  • Mark Deming has a rave review of the record on All Music Guide.
  • PopMatters’ Colin McGuire give Worthy and 8 out of 10.
  • Blurt’s Michael Toland delivers an insightful, four-star review.
  • Photos from Wednesday’s performance at Café Carlyle (Bettye was also interviewed by Paul Schaefer).
  • A recent interview with The Guardian.
  • UPDATED:  Josh Hurst contributes his review to Medium.

BTW, my autographed copy arrived yesterday, which can be purchased from LaVette’s website, in both the standard edition and deluxe edition (which includes a DVD performance from July 2014 in London).