Jennifer Condos

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.

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).