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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‘Love & Revelation’: The Winding, Uphill Road


“The poet Christina Rosetti has a poem that begins, Does the road wind up hill all the way?  She assures us that it does indeed, until the very end, but there are surprising rewards along the way nonetheless. We don’t know that it ever really gets easier.”

-Karin Bergquist, in the press materials for Love & Revelation, due out on Mar 15

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, a young duo began writing songs from a neighborhood in Cincinnati, which at that time – 30 years ago – was considered among the most dangerous in the nation. That historic enclave would give the band its name, Over The Rhine (now, by the way, a hotbed of revitalization in the Midwestern city).

overtherhine1Karin Bergquist and Linford Detweiler (who would marry several years later) built a modest but devoted regional fanbase on the strength of the obvious spiritual searching reflected in their lyrics.  In the early 90’s, IRS Records heard the potential in their penetrating folk-pop and reissued their first two independent releases. IRS would only go on to issue a third album before releasing the band from its contract. But strangely – and perhaps prophetically – their two best sellers to that point would turn out to be their subsequent independent releases, a melancholy semi-Christmas release (The Darkest Night of the Year) and their breakthrough, Good Dog, Bad Dog (no doubt, still cited as a favorite among early fans).

These records would lead to a contract with Virgin imprint, Back Porch Records, as well the most press attention the band would ever receive. Their second release for Back Porch, Ohio, is widely considered a folk-rock masterpiece, a double album opus that lays bare their distinctive sense of place, a signpost that would provide the guiding impulse for much of their music – and their lives – in the coming decade.

By the time their third release for Virgin arrived, the record company had likely made its decision to mostly abandon Over The Rhine, having made a hard push with Ohio. In 2005, the record business was lurching into chaos, and Back Porch Records was little more than an afterthought in a very large corporation preparing to enter into an age of industry consolidation (Back Porch would fold up entirely shortly thereafter).

To complicate matters, Drunkard’s Prayer arrived with the startling revelation that Karin and Linford’s marriage had nearly come apart at the seams in the years preceding it. The album is as powerful and personal as anything they’ve ever recorded, and as a document of a marriage in crisis, it can be a harrowing listen. Though several tracks bear the mark of radio friendly folk-pop, most of the album reveals new musical depth. Karin’s vocals and Linford’s piano, in particular, have an after-hours unearthliness not previously heard.

overtherhine4Finding themselves without a label in 2006, Over The Rhine modestly charted a course that would set the forward path for their careers and lives, even to this day.  The band released the first of several independent live records, Live From Nowhere Vol. 1.  These would be followed by additional volumes and, ultimately, a new studio release The Trumpet Child.  The duo spoke openly during this period about their love of pre-rock and roll music and how they wanted to reflect those influences more strongly in the music.  The Trumpet Child swings and sways, sounding often like a tipsy celebration following what was no doubt a difficult period of transition for the band.  Taken in context with the darker moods of Drunkard’s Prayer, the album also made clear that Over The Rhine intended to sound like something more than a folk-rock band with literary proclivities.  In short, Over The Rhine sounded very much like themselves and not a whole lot else out there.

The plan for the next studio record would defy music industry norms at the time, while also predicting industry trends still a few years away.  Recognizing that what the band lacked in number of fans was largely compensated for by the devotion of their listeners, Over The Rhine set up a simple appeal on their website to raise funds for the recording of the record.  With no intermediary, they simply offered fans – referred to often by Linford as “extended musical family” – several options to purchase the record, along with options to receive a producer credit.  This was made possible due to the hard-earned trust between Over The Rhine and their listeners, a bond forged and honored mutually from the band’s early days.

(It is worth noting at this juncture that tech industry startups seeking to model similar crowdfunding schemes for new music appear to be flailing in recent months.  In fact, PledgeMusic, once a pioneer in music crowdfunding, is now under fire for withholding payments from artists after successful fundraising campaigns.  There are, no doubt, several lessons to be gleaned about allowing money-lenders into the temple of artists, etc., but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.)

To this day, you can read the extensive list of names who helped fund the making of The Long Surrender included in the CD and vinyl editions of the album.  With funds in hand to create a great record, Karin and Linford made, in my opinion, the best musical decision of their careers by reaching out to Joe Henry to produce The Long Surrender.  Amazingly, if memory serves me, Joe had never heard Over The Rhine’s music at the time, despite what I think was probably a sizable overlap between his fans and theirs.  In hindsight, it seems painfully obvious that Karin and Linford would become great musical confederates of Joe, not to mention close friends.  But at the time, I was just thrilled that my favorite producer was being enlisted by one of my favorite bands to help make an album.

There’s not really much for me to say about The Long Surrender that isn’t already implied in the preceding paragraph.  It exceeded my wild expectations by a substantial margin, and remains probably my favorite Over The Rhine record, my favorite production of Joe Henry’s impressive list of work and simply one of my favorite albums ever, sitting comfortably alongside several of Joe’s own records.  Further, I think The Long Surrender accomplished musically what Karin and Linford had been laying the foundation for since Drunkard’s Prayer.  Lyrically, it is mystical but also wickedly funny.  With a band of Joe Henry regulars backing them – Jay Bellerose, David Piltch, Greg Leisz, Levon Henry, Patrick Warren – Over The Rhine seemed to find the perfect set of sympathetic musicians to realize their vision.  It was a wildly successful collaboration that would find continued success in the future.

otr_1Sometime around this time, Karin and Linford took stock of their professional and personal lives and settled on the need for a major change.  Feeling the pull of rural Ohio, the couple purchased a small farm house and barn in Martinsville, about an hour from Cincinnati.  This would turn out to be their most pivotal decision yet, laying the groundwork for a unique creative vision that is evolving even to this day.  Again turning to their extended family, funds to renovate the barn were raised online, giving fans the opportunity for intimate concerts at the site and invitations to events like songwriting workshops.

With their new rural home – lovingly named Nowhere Farm – Karin and Linford were inspired to write an album reflecting the natural wonder surrounding them and the powerful sense of home and place.  Meet Me at the Edge of the World was funded in a similar online fashion as The Long Surrender and was again recorded with Joe Henry at his Garfield House studio, with sessions beginning the day after Easter 2013.  If The Long Surrender is shrouded in smoke and shadow, Meet Me at the Edge of the World is its pastoral cousin, defined largely by Linford’s guitar work (or more specifically, his lack of piano playing).  References abound to the land and creatures occupying Nowhere Farm, and the resulting double album – the second of their career and much stronger than Ohio – reflects deep reserves of confidence and, yes, maybe even contentment.

In seeking to convert the ancient barn at Nowhere Farm to a usable performance space, Over The Rhine hosted an ambitious fundraising effort on the grounds of their home.  The so-called Barn Raising Concerts occurred on Memorial Day Weekend 2015, and they were joined by the newly christened Band of Sweethearts (Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos and Eric Heywood, all of whom played on the Meet Me at the Edge of the World sessions).  Funds were also raised online, resulting in a double CD live album documenting the weekend’s shows.

otr_barnBy 2016, enough work had been done to the old barn to allow Over The Rhine to host their most ambitious project yet, the Nowhere Else Festival on the grounds of Nowhere Farm.  Nothing like a typical music festival, the event would host performances by Joe Henry, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Birds of Chicago and Lucy Wainwright Roche, as well as songwriting workshops, guided nature walks and talks by artist Barry Moser.  The barn housed artwork and showcased future plans for the loft, still underway.  It was one the most unique – and most beautiful – events I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending, and it was successful enough to justify repeating Nowhere Else Festival in 2017, 2018 and now in 2019 as well.

So what is this story?  I hope it is that of a band finding a new way to record, perform and live mostly on their own terms, now and well into the future.  By inviting their fans into the process – and finally even inviting them to their home – Karin and Linford have created a blueprint for continuing their work in a way that transcends piling themselves in a van for six months each year.  I’m sure their grandest plans for Nowhere Farm are yet to be realized but by humbly placing their faith in their listeners, hopefully they will be doing this for many years to come.

So… something about a new album?  The backstory feels necessary because it has now been over five years since the release of Meet Me at the Edge of the World (and four years since their third holiday-themed release Blood Oranges in the Snow).  I hope I’ve recounted this history somewhat accurately, often based on my recollections of the lovingly crafted newsletters sent out by Linford over the years. 

Linford Detweiler and Karin Berquist of Over The RhineThe release of Love & Revelation – sent out this week to those who funded it and available generally March 15 – feels like a celebration of sorts, hard won after a few years of victories as well as setbacks.  If it carries that weight with the listener, the album itself bears no sign of such a burden.  In fact, it glides by in 42 minutes with a gentle grace and often light touch.  The first half of the record certainly offers up its share of uneasiness, but during the album’s second half, the tone shifts and lightens and ultimately arrives at some kind of peace.

In recent years, I’ve heard Linford make – or repeat, I can’t recall – the statement that songs are prayers.  In the final verse of his song “Let You Down,” he sings:

And if a song
is worth a thousand prayers,
we’ll sing till angels come carry you
and all your cares.

If this album has a running theme, that might best sum it up (actually, it might as well be the mission statement for Over The Rhine).  Indeed, many of the songs on the record, which leans heavily on Karin’s songwriting, share a cadence not unlike a hymn, repeated appeals for mercy in the face of heartache and uncertainty.  Only on the title track, written by Karin, and Linford’s “Betting on the Muse” (inspired by Charles Bukowski) does the almost beat poetry of previous efforts appear.  The remainder of the album is marked by a particularly spare lyrical style, befitting the overall mood.

Though Joe Henry was unable to produce due to an extended trip to Ireland during the recording, his spirit lingers over the proceedings.  In fact, Karin states in the press materials:

“Joe always used to sign off in his emails and letters with ‘Love & Revelation, JH.’ It was a little blessing he would offer—his wish, I suppose, being that anyone who came into his circle would know love and be open to being surprised. The phrase became important to us, and we asked Joe if we could use it for the name of the record. He quickly gave us his blessing.”

Appropriately, Henry regulars Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos, Greg Leisz and Patrick Warren all play on the record, which was engineered by Ryan Freeland (JH’s regular engineer) at his studio in California.  They are joined also by longtime Over The Rhine sideman Bradley Meinerding.  It’s tempting to wonder how this record might be different with Joe’s production, but there’s no doubt that Love & Revelation is a tremendous work, bearing all the hallmarks of the duo’s 30 years’ worth of songwriting and recording experience.

Lastly, you may recall Karin and Linford’s participation in Joe Henry’s 2014 Wild Edges concerts in Durham, NC, where newly written songs were performed for the first time alongside Joe and the Milk Carton KidsLove & Revelation marks the debut of three songs from those evenings:  “Los Lunas” (which opened both shows), “Making Pictures” and “Betting on the Muse.”  If you’d like to read more about those evenings, you find my recap here.  Those shows were recorded by Ryan Freeland but have not been released.

(You can pre-order Love & Revelation from the band’s online store here – orders instantly receive the title track for download.

Tickets to 2019’s Nowhere Else Festival are available here, with additional information here.)

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


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 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”

Josh Hurst reviews Allen Toussaint’s ‘American Tunes’ (out now)

Toussaint_MWilsonToday marks the release of the late Allen Toussaint’s follow-up to his Joe Henry-produced 2009 album The Bright Mississippi.  By now, you’ve read how the recording of American Tunes preceded Toussaint’s untimely passing by only a couple of weeks.  And Joe himself has indicated in interviews how Toussaint very nearly backed out of those final sessions.

Which is to say that American Tunes is not merely  a wonderful record – which it certainly is – but also a great blessing, allowing us to hear Allen Toussaint’s tremendous talent represented one last time.

So please enjoy this affecting review of American Tunes by our good friend and exceptional writer, Josh Hurst.

(More release day press and coverage in the post below.)