The Story Behind Allen Toussaint’s ‘American Tunes’

Nonesuch has posted a lovely essay by Michael Hill detailing the making of Allen Toussaint’s final album, American Tunes.  You can read several excerpts from the liner notes, including quotes by album producer Joe Henry.

American Tunes will be released on June 10.

Joe Henry & Billy Bragg album, US/UK tour coming this fall

Bragg_Henry

On September 23, Billy Bragg and Joe Henry will release an incredibly unique project titled Shine A Light – Field Recording From The Great American Railroad.  The album features songs by Jimmie Rodgers, Hank Williams, Lead Belly and other greats and was recorded over four days on a train across America.

The duo will support the record with a UK tour in November and US tour in Sep/Oct.  More info here – and no doubt, much more information to come.  Very exciting news!

UDPATE II:  US tour as well, and full website is live as well.

UDPATE:  Here’s some of that more information:

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…

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.