Jay Bellerose

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)…

Josh Hurst reviews Birds of Chicago’s ‘Real Midnight’

birds_of_chicagoI have to confess that I somewhat glossed over the release of Birds of Chicago’s Real Midnight back in February.  Having received the Kickstarter digital copy back in November, it just kind of fell below my radar when it was officially released.  In fact, I really only started spending quality time with the album over the past two weeks, and it is something quite special.

As luck would have it, our old friend, Josh Hurst, has revamped his own website and has just reviewed Real Midnight.  As he often does, he finds the perfect words to describe the spirit of this album.  As you may recall, Real Midnight was the final album recorded at Joe Henry’s Garfield House studio.  Jay Bellerose plays drums on the record, and Rhiannon Giddens provides vocals and fiddle on a couple of tracks.

Also, be sure to check out Josh’s recent reviews of Lucinda Williams’ The Ghosts of Highway 20 and Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Let Me Get By, two of my other favorite releases of 2016.

UPDATE:  Over The Rhine recently announced that Birds of Chicago will be joining the lineup of their Nowhere Else Festival over Memorial Day weekend (see below post for more details).

Also, you should definitely check out their recent Folk Alley Sessions.  Here’s “Remember Wild Horses”…

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 & Jay on High Fidelity Podcast

Well, it’s Christmas Eve.  So might I suggest grabbing a cup o’ nog or grog, putting your feet up by the fire and curling up with the latest Live from High Fidelity podcast, featuring Joe Henry and Jay Bellerose (taped in Jay’s man-cave, no less).

Along with host Tom DeSavia and Eric Gorfain, they discuss and spin some of their favorite records and a few yarns along the way.  Clocking in a nearly 3 hours, Episode 25 (Parts 1 & 2) can be downloaded from iTunes here or Hipcast here.

Please have a wonderful holiday and a very safe New Year.  Hope to see you back in 2015.

Early winter Joe Henry update

First, apologies for the light blogging.  I suppose it’s time to crawl out of the woodwork and pass along some of the recent happenings in JH’s universe.

Many thanks and kudos to Stefan for keeping the flame burning in my absence and holding down the European front.  He’s been tireless in his efforts, and much of what you’ll read here I heard about from his blog.

  • In that spirit, be sure to check out Stefan’s interview with JH regarding his passion for vintage guitars.
  • Stefan also first tipped me to JH’s production work on a marvelous new Christmas record by Irish artist Caitriona O’Leary called The Wexford Carols.  For this fascinating collection of nearly forgotten Christmas folk ballads, she is joined by Rhiannon Giddens, Tom Jones and Rosanne Cash.  What a beautiful and surprising holiday collection.  It is available only as an import stateside, but it available in the U.S. iTunes store.
  • Speaking of beautiful Christmas music, Over The Rhine have released their new collection Blood Oranges in the Snow.  Though JH lends no production to this one, frequent collaborators Jay Bellerose, Jennifer Condos and Eric Heywood hold down much of the musical support for the album.  And nobody does Christmas music quite like OtR!
  • The first exciting JH production news for 2015 is that Bettye LaVette will release her new album, Worthy, on Jan. 27.  It features that talents of Jay Bellerose, Doyle Bramhall II, Patrick Warren and Chris Bruce and will available as a deluxe edition with a live performance DVD (pre-order regular edition here, and deluxe edition here).
  • Big, big live performance news for 2015:  JH and Sam Phillips will join forces for two nights (Feb. 21 & 22) at Largo in West Hollywood.  They will share the stage – and a band – for the two evenings.  I’m pretty sure names like Bellerose and Condos will be involved (tickets for Feb. 21, Feb. 22).
  • As a reminder, JH will also have a string of live performances in January.
  • Nell Robinson recently released an interesting CD that was produced by JH at Garfield House.  Rose of No-Man’s Land is Robinson’s tribute to her family’s long tradition of military service, woven together from letters and reflections by her Alabama family.  Ramblin’ Jack, Kris Kristofferson and John Doe all make guest appearances.
  • One final related note… Jay Bellerose continues to be a go-to player for most of T Bone Burnett’s projects.  Therefore, it will come as no surprise that his percussive stamp is all over The New Basement Tapes’ Lost on the River.  Jay can also be found (shyly) in front of the camera for the accompanying Showtime documentary about the project (previous notes on this project here).