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New Joe Henry record ‘The Gospel According To Water’ to be released November 15

As many of you probably know by now, in late 2018, Joe Henry received a difficult cancer diagnosis that would sideline his early 2019 tour dates and, without a doubt, present him with unforeseen challenges throughout the year.

JH triumphantly returns with a new album The Gospel According To Water on November 15 – one year to the day after receiving his diagnosis. Originally intended as demo recordings, the two-day sessions blossomed into a fully realized a record with the help of several frequent collaborators. Levon Henry, David Piltch, Patrick Warren and John Smith – all tried and true musical compatriots – dropped in to add their immeasurable talents to the mix.

You can pre-order the vinyl and CD at Joe’s website, as well as order some limited edition prints by Jacob Blickenstaff which were taken at Largo when JH appeared there in July.

In the press release, JH provides his own thoughts…

The album is called The Gospel According To Water. It was recorded over two days this past June —and fairly blind-sided me, when I thought I was merely making reference demos of thirteen new songs ahead of forgetting them. All but two of these songs were written between Valentines and Fathers Days; all having flowered from the black earth of recent experience —namely a cancer diagnosis late last fall that left me reeling —though, as well, set into motion many wild blessings and positive shifts in my life, along with an unprecedented songwriting flurry. 

With only a handful of friends playing in support, I entered the studio and tore through these songs with determination and joyful abandon, then went home. I had let nothing clutter or distract me from their essential and true heart; and upon waking the morning after, I understood that something significantly more had transpired —that the songs as articulated had sparked an ember that somehow remained bright and alive before me, moving beyond my expectations.

I unexpectedly heard the songs as complete, and vividly so; and knew that the casual circumstances had not limited my expression but in fact liberated me from the cloying aim for posterity that can make weighty any session, and landed me instead in a place both unencumbered by the past and unattached to futures.

Though they have all grown out of darkness, I don’t believe any of these songs themselves to be “dark” in nature, nor about the circumstance that prompted their discovery. In them, I hear the re-accessing of my imagination and its greater invitation; hear deep gratitude, and a compassion toward self that I don’t always possess; an optimism I did not know I’d allowed to flourish.

These recordings are raw and wirey and spare because the songs insisted they be. But I believe them to be as wholly realized —as “produced” as anything I’ve touched, as well as being deeply and fundamentally romantic: in love with life, even when that life founders and threatens to disappear; lustfully aglow, not in spite of storm but because of one.

Come November, then, I will hand this all over —while the sky is bright, and leaves are still turning and descending —the days listing as they grow brisk and shorter. 

Just in time for Thanksgiving.

The Light of All We’ve Lost: Over the Rhine gets taken for everything

Josh Hurst – my favorite authority on Joe Henry, not to mention Over The Rhine – has posted a wonderful review of OtR’s new record…

Josh Hurst

love and revelation

The first thing you should know about Over the Rhine: All their favorite people are broken. They’ve spent the last decade closing most of their concerts with a song proclaiming as much, and on Love & Revelation— the first new Over the Rhine collection in close to six years— the prognosis doesn’t seem markedly improved. “I can fix anything except for me,” sings Karin Bergquist on the rough and tumble opener, “Los Lunas,” and what follows is a tender, album-length meditation on all things unfixable— broken love, crumbled empires, breached faith, bodies plundered by sickness and death. Love & Revelation is an album buffeted by trials, hounded by loss, stricken by a grim national mood; to the band’s enormous credit, it’s also unflinching and unsentimental. The wisdom of this record is how it chooses to abide sorrow, sitting with it, letting it linger; the aim isn’t to wallow…

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Joe Henry Early Fall Update… and a brief note

Ed. Note:  I hope this post finds you all well as summer winds down (hopefully sooner for you than for those of us on the Texas Gulf Coast).  If you have stumbled upon this, you might also have noticed how neglected the blog has been in the past few months.  That is due, thankfully, not to any particular life change or tragedy but simply to the never-ending encroachment of real life into the borders of my virtual one.  As such, the time has probably arrived to sort of wind down the blog.

When I started this endeavor, it was mainly with the notion that Joe Henry was a criminally unsung talent.  It has been my great pleasure over the years to see that as less and less of a concern as JH’s reputation and stature has continued to grow and solidify amongst his peers in the industry.  Furthermore, JH himself has become an engaging presence on Facebook, often keeping us apprised of his own projects.  And Stefan’s blog has continued to keep the flame burning when I’ve occasionally allowed mine to dim.

But mostly, I don’t wish to add another item to my list of unfinished or neglected tasks.  Silly as it seems to sign off on something that takes up precious little time, the simple fact is when I have 15 minutes to spare, I’d rather strum my guitar, read a book, walk a dog… almost anything other than sit in front of a computer.

However, I don’t want you to think for a moment that my passion for Joe’s music is in any way diminished.  Music remains the guiding light of my life, and I am fortunate to still be able to consume music often throughout the day.  I still wait on pins and needles to hear the latest project with JH’s fingerprints on it.

As you might imagine, my social media presence has also somewhat diminished, but you might still catch a report from a Joe Henry concert or an Over The Rhine festival.  And I still check my Twitter feed periodically to retweet out the latest JH happenings.  Many kind thanks to all of you have stopped by and often given me encouragement and shared your love of Joe Henry’s music.

With that out of the way, I’ll leave you with this post as we all look forward to the Friday release of Billy Bragg and Joe Henry’s new album, Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad.

  • Hopefully you have already heard the new solo song released by JH titled “Shook Up The World” dedicated to Muhammad Ali.  It was recorded in the studio very recently with JH’s usual conspirators, and he felt the song deserved to be heard in a timely manner.
  • You can hear Joe and Billy live from WXPN’s studios at Word Café Live
  • The two were the subject of a great article in American Songwriter
  • And on the cover of October’s Acoustic Guitar magazine
  • Chely Wright’s JH-produced record I Am The Rain was released on September 9 – Stefan has a rundown of some great making-of videos for the album
  • Check back later in the week, and I’ll post a rundown of reviews for Shine A Light as they roll in.  In the meantime, I’ll leave you with Joe and Billy’s performance of “Gentle On My Mind”

Hayes Carll’s ‘Lovers and Leavers’ out today

Hayes_2016_3Hayes Carll’s stunning new record Lovers and Leavers is out today.  He will embark on a brief Texas tour before heading off to the UK at the end of the month, then back Stateside for dates through the summer.

As you may have noticed, I’ve been anticipating this release since Carll first announced last year that he’d be recording it with Joe Henry at the production helm.  His stated purpose at that time was to create something a bit more introspective, downplaying perhaps some of the rambunctious humor of his earlier work (i.e. “She Left Me For Jesus”).

Lovers and Leavers is certainly quintessential Carll – quieter, more reflective, for sure, but not without his trademark insight and humor.  It is perhaps the most spare record Joe Henry has ever produced, placing the emphasis squarely on Carll’s voice and guitar, underpinned by the percolating rhythm section of Jay Bellerose and David Piltch, occasionally accented by the keys of Tyler Chester and pedal steel of Eric Heywood.  Interestingly, this is easily Carll’s most personal and often revealing album of songs, but each tune is credited with a co-writer, an approach that Carll has said brings added perspective to his own voice.  Check out the very personal “The Magic Kid” (written with Darrell Scott) for evidence that Carll has brilliantly found ways marry personal details with universal truths about innocence and fearlessness.

Hayes Carll could not have found a more sympathetic producer than Joe Henry for this record, which is no doubt a significant milestone in Carll’s career.  As a fan of both artists’ work long before this collaboration, I can wholeheartedly say that it has exceeded my hopes in every way.

Please check it out.  Here’s a quick review and press roundup:

And from those Folk Alley 30A Sessions, here is Carll with the incomparable Allison Moorer on “Love Don’t Let Me Down” (not performed as a duet on the album, btw)…

Joe Henry & Marc Ribot (Big Ears Festival, Apr 1): A review by Josh Hurst

{Ed. note: Knoxville’s Big Ears Festival has received widespread praise for its incredibly unique and adventurous lineup.  It should come as no surprise that Joe Henry and guitarist Marc Ribot should team up for such an event.  As luck would have it, our good friend (and JH aficionado), Josh Hurst,  has recently moved back to Knoxville and has kindly offered up this report from the show.  Many thanks to Josh for the contribution – enjoy…}

Knoxville, Tennessee’s much (and deservedly) ballyhooed Big Ears Festival is nothing if not diverse—this year’s lineup included moody jazz and electronics from Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith, druid drone from Sun O))), heady orchestrations from Laurie Anderson, saxophone catharsis from Kamsi Washington, and on and on—but if anything, the relentless parade of sound and color made the starkness of Joe Henry’s set stand out all the more. Joe was something like the troubadour in residence for the weekend revelry, one of the few (only?) performers to try leaving his audience spellbound and enraptured with nothing more than voice, song, and acoustic guitar; yet leave us spellbound and enraptured he did, not only because he performed highlights from all of his albums going back to Trampoline, but also because he was joined by acclaimed guitarist Marc Ribot on all but one song, plus reed man Levon Henry on three of them.

The setlist opened with “Trampoline” and concluded with a couple of songs off Invisible Hour; a stripped-down and spooky “Sold,” much-reworked “Like She Was a Hammer,” and ever-timely “Civil War” were additional highlights. I will take a moment of personal privilege to note the happy inclusion of my own favorite Joe Henry song, “Parker’s Mood.” Joe was in fine voice and good spirits, and Ribot, of course, tore it up, most notably with his frantic pyrotechnics on Blood from Stars’ bluesier numbers like “Bellwether” and “All Blues Hail Mary.” Levon’s highlight was likely “Eyes Out for You,” where his sax work reminded me of no one more than Sonny Rollins, encompassing the full vocabulary of the horn from sound effects/background ambiance to beautiful flights of melody.

Joe has toured just a bit more than usual in recent years, it would seem, and many who have attended these shows comment on the warmth present there, the generosity of spirit; Joe is a conceptual thinker who tends to have big ideas about recordings and performances, but the pleasure of his live shows is in how he just lets the songs and stories work their charms, no further unifying thread needed. The Big Ears performance seemed, from my vantage point up front, like it was well-received by the audience, and just in making my way into the theater I encountered people who’d driven in from Georgia, South Carolina, and even Pennsylvania (!!) for an all-too-rare opportunity to see our man at work. I don’t imagine any left disappointed, and personally, I stand by my conviction that Joe’s set was worth the Big Ears admission price all on its own.

Joe Henry interview with The Bluegrass Situation

A new interview with Joe Henry always leaves you with plenty to absorb.  So enjoy this one with The Bluegrass Situation’s esteemed Stephen Duesner, as part of their ongoing The Producers series.

They begin with a discussion of the new Hayes Carll album, but there are plenty of insights from JH on his role as record producer.