Levon Henry

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…

Joe Henry to appear at Over The Rhine’s Nowhere Else Festival in May

Following last year’s inaugural Nowhere Else Festival at their home, Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler of Over The Rhine have expanded the format of this year’s festival to include several guest artists.  I wasn’t able to find the contents of their latest email update online, so I’ve just reproduced it here.  Joe Henry will appear at the festival this year, alongside several other noteworthy artists, including Levon Henry.  A festival FAQ link and ticket link can be found at the bottom of the update…

Dear barn swallows, barn owls, barn raisers, blue jean sky dreamers, hayloft guitars, barn dance beauties…

Last May we gathered on the beautiful piece of unpaved earth we have come to call home for special barn-raising concerts. It was truly the weekend of a lifetime for Karin and I as we began taking real steps toward the next chapter for our music and life’s work. Saving and restoring a 140-year-old barn was something we could never have done on our own. Just like in years long past, it still takes a community and extended family.

This year we are growing.

Hopefully you’ve heard by now that Karin and I are hosting our first Music and Arts Festival on the farm this Memorial Day Wknd, May 28 & 29. (There is a special gathering on the 27th as well.)

What fun it has been to invite some of the songwriters, visual artists and writers who have shared the journey – people who have not only inspired our work, but who have kindled in us the desire to be better people.

We started by asking three of our most important, treasured teachers – and dear friends. Imagine our joy when they all said yes!

Perhaps you’ll tolerate our excitement if we write just a few personal reflections on a few of them. (We’ll announce the full line-up and festival schedule soon – some artists and writers are still being confirmed.)

So without further ado, here is a first taste of some of our favorite people – some of those who will be joining us this Memorial Day Weekend at Nowhere Else Festival 2016! We truly hope you can be a part of it.

Rivers and oceans,

Linford and Karin

First, we invited Michael Wilson. Michael is one of the great photographers and picture-makers of our generation and has been a faithful friend since we met in 1988. He probably doesn’t think of himself as having helped mentor Karin and I but that’s exactly what he did. Over the years he has made beautiful portraits of many of our songwriting peers and heroes.  He was the first person to spin a Tom Waits record for us late one night. He has contributed photographs to over 20 of our recording projects, and his beautiful work undoubtedly made the songs more resonant than they would have been on their own.

We can’t host our first music and arts festival without Michael and his work. Michael will present some of his photographs in the barn, talk about his work and some of the pictures that made him want to be a photographer. You’ll also have the opportunity to follow Michael and his camera on a photo ramble through nearby Wilmington, Ohio, and make pictures alongside a true master of the craft.

Check out some of Michael’s photographs here: michaelwilson.pictures

Joe Henry was our next call. Joe is a multiple Grammy-award winning songwriter, record producer, writer, espresso connoisseur and so much more. At a turning point in our career, Joe helped Karin and I blow the seams out of our songs and record The Long Surrender and Meet Me At The Edge Of The World – records that were funded by our extended musical family, and therefore collaborative efforts at art making.

As a brother and kindred spirit, Joe has opened and nurtured an ongoing conversation with us that has continued to billow our sails. Meeting and working with Joe is one of the reasons that Karin can even now say with full conviction, There is still so much music left to be made.

Joe introduced us to the incredible musicians who eventually became The Band of Sweethearts, and of course they will be present at the festival as well.

Joe and his band will be performing at the festival but we’ll also find opportunities for Joe to perform solo and talk about his life’s work and discoveries as a songwriter, record producer, author and consummate student of life. Don’t miss this unique chance to lean fully into his sway.

BARRY MOSER has illustrated over 300 books. In addition to being an illustrator, he is also a printer, painter, printmaker, designer, author, essayist and teacher. (Not to mention dog lover.) He has won far too many awards to list.

His illustrations for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland won him a National Book Award for design and illustration. His illustrations for Moby Dick confirmed his world-class stature as one of the great engravers and printmakers of our generation.

Barry’s work is represented in numerous collections, museums and libraries in the United States and abroad, including the National Gallery of Art, The Metropolitan Museum, The British Museum, The Library of Congress, Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Cambridge et cetera.

One rewarding thing about being a songwriter is you never quite know where the path will lead. Meeting and befriending Barry has been one of the great, good, unexpected gifts of this life. And Barry has taught us so much as we have shared a thousand laughs…

Barry was the first person we heard announce to any artist within earshot: “Talent is as common as house dust, and about as useful as teats on a boar hog…”

To Barry, it’s not about talent, it’s about doing the work.

Barry encourages all of his students not to call themselves “artists” but rather to call themselves by the work they do: songwriter, painter, writer, pianist, photographer… Barry says, let someone else decide if it’s art. Keep your focus on the work at hand, the craft. Make it about doing your best work.

Barry was the only 20th Century artist to profusely illustrate the King James Bible. There are only a few of these treasures still available – The Pennyroyal Caxton primary edition was limited to 450 copies. (Most were snatched up by the world’s great art museums and libraries…) Barry has donated one of these few remaining editions to our barn raising effort. It will be made available for bid at Nowhere Else Festival, and someone will take home a timeless work of art that can be passed down for many generations to come.

At the festival, Barry will be reading from his fine new memoir, We Were Brothers, and offering a number of workshops. You may well have occasion to meet and draw with one of the great artists – we said it – of our time.

So there you have it. It’s not an overstatement to say that Karin and I would have likely hung up our songwriting hats along the way had we not met these three unique, gifted artists and fellow-travelers. We can’t wait to share them with you.

Briefly, allow us to mention a few other gifted folks who will be descending on the farm with all manner of goodness to share:

We asked five-time Grammy Award winners THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA to have the last word this year. After all, we’re putting up a big, beautiful tent, why not close the festival with a tent-meeting revival of sorts. We’re going to let the Blind Boys’ soulful harmonies baptize the farm with roiling joy. Lift a glass, shed a few tears. What a coup.

We asked Rebecca Weller to discuss and display some of the beautiful paintings she’s been making of Ohio’s native songbirds ~ the birds we see most everyday on Nowhere Farm/Nowhere Else.

We asked Levon Henry to share some of the songs he’s been writing, and to bring his saxophone and sit in on some of the songs that he has recorded with us – There’s A Bluebird In My Heart, All My Favorite People… He’ll be performing with his father Joe’s band as well. Can’t wait for the sound of his voice and horn to put our world on notice.

Songwriter and story-teller extraordinaire Lucy Wainwright Roche will be on the scene, offering her songs and spring-water clear voice.

Cincinnati musical institution, The Comet Bluegrass Allstars, will pull from their 1000 song repertoire and grace our place with their virtuosity and humor.

And of course Over the Rhine and the Band of Sweethearts will offer concerts each day of the festival. It’s our party and we’ll cry (and laugh) if we want to…

There is more to come! We will announce the full festival line-up and schedule soon. There are additional workshops tba, and I’m planning a little nature walk on the farm with gifted nature photographer Kent Burgess and naturalist Kent Mitchell – we’ll ramble around, talk trees, songbirds, wildflowers, wild edges – and call them by name.

As we continue to reinvent and re-imagine what it means to have a music career in 2016, we hope you will join us on the farm for what’s shaping up to be a truly amazing weekend. Please share and help us spread the word.

Nowhere Else Festival tickets available here:
http://stores.portmerch.com/overtherhine/nowhere-else-festival.html

FAQ available here:
http://portmerch.com/downloads/2016_Festival_FAQ.pdf

Peace like a river, love like an ocean,

Linford and Karin

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).

Joe Henry at Largo at The Coronet (June 21, 2014)

IMG_4614This 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:

  • Odetta*
  • Eyes Out For You*
  • Believer (new song described as a cross between “Amazing Grace” and “Let’s Get It On”)+
  • Sparrow*
  • Invisible Hour*
  • Grave Angels*
  • Swayed*
  • Monkey (piano)*
  • Our Song (piano)+
  • Lead Me On+
  • After The War+
  • God Only Knows (piano)+
  • Plainspeak*
  • Progress of Love^
  • Stop^
  • All Blues Hail Mary (really awesome – probably my fave of the night)^
  • You Can’t Fail Me Now^
  • Every Sorrow^
  • Unspeakable^
Encore – acoustic set:
  • Trampoline (with 14 yr old Charlie Hickey – really beautiful)+
  • Kindness of the World+
Encore – band set:
  • Plainspeak*
  • Slide^

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.

UPDATE:  Fantastic review from The Hollywood Reporter.  Full setlist included in the article.

Wild Edges: A Recap

(Apologies for the relative lateness of this post, but as you know – since you are reading this post at the new site – I’ve been a little busy with the move of the blog.  Thanks for your patience and thanks for checking out the new blog location. – DK)

Wild_EdgesJosh Hurst – a friend and occasional contributor to this blog – joked this past weekend about how he personally “willed into existence” last year’s collaboration between Elvis Costello and The Roots, two acts for whom he is very passionate.  One could make a similar observation that Wild Edges – a commissioned performance of original songs from Joe Henry, Over The Rhine and The Milk Carton Kids – might have likewise been the result of subconscious prayer and wishful thinking from Josh, myself or any number of fans of these intertwined talents.

Setting aside the complete uniqueness of the event (over two nights at Durham’s Hayti Heritage Center), one could conceivably worry that the endeavor would look better on paper than it would sound in execution.  It is, after all, a tall order for artists to compose and perform original music, never heard in public in any format, and connect it to the ears of an expectant audience.  If anticipation was already high, the stunning and intimate setting of the Hayti certainly raised the stakes.

All that said, however, it will surprise few readers of this blog that I and – judging from their exuberant reaction – nearly everyone in attendance walked away from the two nights with all expectations met and exceeded, not to mention souls and spirits nourished and renewed.  The premise was to connect selections from the Great American Songbook – which in this context was represented by inspirations such as “Delia’s Gone”, “The Needle and The Damage Done”, “Spring Can Hang You Up The Most” and many others – to the new songs.  Those connections were occasionally explicit but mostly provided springboards for the compositions, which, according to Henry, would have to “fight it out in the streets,” just like any other songs.

And fight they did; though in these capable hands, they mostly floated like butterflies while occasionally stinging like bees.  Almost every song had something unique to offer.  Henry’s “The Glorious Dead” certainly sounded like something lifted directly from his own songbook, but, as Linford Detweiler pointed out, sounded like “an unearthed hymn.”  “Dangerous Love” was a swinging tune on its own merits, but Levon Henry’s wicked saxophone solo that capped off the performance wrenched it off its foundations.  Both evenings opened with “Los Lunas,” which was as perfect a song as I’ve heard Karin Bergquist sing, underpinned by Kenneth Pattengale’s lilting pedal steel.  Joey Ryan had several standout performances, and his voice proved to be a key ingredient on many of the evening’s songs.  Ryan reliably provided dry comic relief in between more than a few of the songs.

The cast was superbly accompanied by Henry regulars Jennifer Condos (bass) and Jay Bellerose (drums, percussion and assorted noise), along with Levon on clarinet and saxophone.  The performances were packed with musical highlights but certainly his contributions were among the most indelible.  Likewise, Pattengale no doubt shocked the audience with his vast reserves of instrumental talent, which included impressive work on pedal steel, dobro, electric guitar, accordion and piano.  The number of participants ranged from two (when Pattengale accompanied Bergquist with his soulful piano on a tune only played during the second evening) to all participants, with all points in between as various cast members left the stage briefly.  Unsurprisingly, with this batch of talent, the arrangements never threatened to overshadow or suffocate the songs themselves.

The proceedings were recorded by engineer Ryan Freeland for possible future release, and after two nearly flawless presentations, one should anticipate that little will prevent that from happening.

Followers of these acts are most likely the type of music fans who hold dear the notion that music is more than mere entertainment and can occasionally achieve transcendence.  My guess is that all who bore witness to these miraculous two nights of music walked away with that assumption both intact and fortified.

Here are a couple of reviews from the local North Carolina press:

Wild Edges anticipation builds

Duke University's Independent Daily has a little more backstory on this week's Wild Edges performance at the Hayti Center in Durham, as well as some information on what may happen with the live recordings.

Also, check out Karin and Linford's photo feed for some behind-the-scenes pictures of this week's rehearsals.