Ryan Freeland

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…

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.

Joe Henry odds & ends, Springtime Edition

Since there's been a good deal of activity in the Joe Henry universe, I thought it would be a good time to recap:

  • The big news, obviously, was that Over Then Rhine made the journey out to Pasadena last week to commence work of their new record.  It would appear that recording continues this week, and you can keep up with the process over at the band's Facebook page.
  • JH, OtR, Billy Bragg and others joined The Milk Carton Kids onstage last week at Largo to celebrate the duo's new record The Ash & Clay.  I have to say this is a gorgeous record, and it bears mentioning that Ryan Freeland engineered the album (and JH again contributed a wonderful introduction in the liner notes).  Get this album immediately!
  • Of course, the first JH-produced release of 2013 is Billy Bragg's latest, Tooth & Nail, which was released only two weeks ago.  It took me a few spins to warm up to it, but I also have this one on heavy rotation.  I'm not sure what Billy's hardcore base will think of it, as he is certainly in a mellower, more reflective mood throughout.  I think his voice is absolutely lovely on the album, and he's written some wonderful love songs this time.
  • Lisa Hannigan's brilliant guitarist John Smith just released a solo album titled Great Lakes.  I believe it features a JH co-write or two, and it is quite an engaging album.  Available as an import, or in the US via iTunes.
  • One more Ryan Freeland note: his considerable skills as recording engineer are also on display on the arresting duo album, Night, from Simone Dinnerstein and Tift Merritt, which is probably my favorite record of 2013 thus far.  Stunning on so many levels.
  • UPDATE:  Somehow I missed that the new Hugh Laurie album is already in the can and slated for a UK release.  Didn't It Rain will be available on May 6 — all the details here.  Check out a couple of new tracks and see some of our favorite players in action over at Laurie's YouTube channel.

I'll leave you on this note…