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Joe Henry - Invisible Hour

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There are many Joe Henry songs that contain elements of dry, sometimes dark humor, but the second of the new songs he plays here-- "Plainspeak"-- is, I think, his funniest song yet.

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This feels like a good album for him to actually have an image of himself on the cover. Is that a Michael Wilson shot, I wonder?

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This feels like a good album for him to actually have an image of himself on the cover.

 

Yes. And: Like the most recent Over the Rhine album, I feel like this one could've been self-titled and we'd all think it perfectly appropriate.

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Another song, the wondrous opener "Sparrow," is featured on the current All Songs Considered podcast.

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My review of the album-- which, as you might have gathered, I quite like.

 

 

Incidentally, Invisible Hour was written, performed, and produced by Joe Henry; one imagines that, were it a film and not a record, he might also serve as cinematographer, choreographer, gaffer, and best boy. It is the first of his albums that he has self-released, and the first since 1999’s Fuse to bear his own image on the cover, plus original candid photos of family members and bandmates adorning the inside artwork. Truthfully, he could have self-titled it and none of us would have raised an eyebrow. He has never sung with more conviction or clarity, never written songs that so deftly abide mystery while inviting emotional investment; they are funny and literary and seemingly closer to confessional singer-songwriting than the man has allowed himself to come in the past. Invisible Hour is the best conjuring of everything that Joe Henry does well, the surest and more generous he has ever been as a performer; in a catalog that’s filled with great recordings, none of them sounding much like any of the others, this one feels likely to become the consensus pick for his new high watermark.

 

Yet though it bears the unmistakable mark of its auteur, Invisible Hour also carries the easygoing grace and spontaneity that come from true collaboration. The sound of it is lush and folksy—a comparison to something like Blood on the Tracks or even Simon and Garfunkel records would prove truthful enough, though the edges are blurred with the kind of heavenly and erotic mysticism that marked Van Morrison’s work circa Astral Weeks and Veedon Fleece. It’s the most guitar-based Joe Henry album yet, its sound conjuring the magic and romance of stringed instruments playing off each other, and much of that is attributable to John Smith and Greg Leisz. The Milk Carton Kids are on hand to add tender vocal harmonies, giving the record an extra dimension; they suggest a record made to envelop us, to sweet us off our feet with its sensual pleasures. The rhythm section includes drummer Jay Bellerose and electric bassist Jennifer Condos (with Dave Piltch subbing in on the upright for a couple numbers), and they provide the record with more than just a solid foundation; Bellerose’s generous splashes of cymbals seem somehow to convey something of the record’s lushness, and also its openness and availability. (Curiously, there is no piano player here—an odd thing on a Joe Henry album.)

 

The feel of the album seems to be shaped most profoundly by the work of Levon Henry, who appears on almost every song playing reeds, often looping himself to lend the impression of a small horn section; what he does here is beyond category, sounding not really like conventional “jazz” playing but also not much like what you’d hear on a rock or an R&B record; there’s a playfulness to what he does (especially the giddy, Monk-like carnival of sounds on “Grave Angels”) that accentuates the elder Henry’s humor (which never gets enough attention), but more than anything he drives these songs deeper and deeper into the mystic. He brings a stormy act break to “Sign,” opens the heavens on “Swayed,” and lends “Plainspeak” an earthy sense of swing.

 

It is no accident, of course, that Invisible Hour is both an album about marriage and also an uncommonly autobiographical album for Joe Henry—or perhaps just one that’s made to seem that way: He’s always been a smoke-and-mirrors man, and it would surely be simplistic of us to assume that the central character in each of these songs is indeed Joe Henry himself. What can’t be doubted is that, with the strange elegance and abiding warmth of this recording, Henry is more open than ever—perhaps more zealous than ever—to be heard, and in many ways that’s what Invisible Hour is about: The need that each one of us has to be understood for who we are, not just for someone to listen to us with tender heart and attentive ear but for someone to offer affirmation to our cracked beauty, our secret earthbound hearts. The characters on Invisible Hour are all broken and brittle, and the simple acknowledgement of this allows some holy and healing light to shine through.

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More news: You can listen to 90-second samples of the new songs at Joe's website; you can also-pre-order via Amazon or iTunes.

 

Note that the album will come with downloads for demos of all the songs, plus Joe's version of "Your Name on My Tongue," which he co-wrote with Billy Bragg and which Bragg recorded for his Tooth and Nail record.

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Joe talks about the amazing and epic new song "Sign":

 

 

I had only two days in which to deliver the thing; and in a haze of either excitement or panic (sometimes the sensations are indistinguishable), I wrote a character sketch of an aging and world-weary adventurer, whose mother had died in child birth; who feigned being deaf, ran away from the mines of his native Montreal, and circled the globe in a desperate attempt to state his early feelings of abandonment and loss that he feared might ultimately consume and define him.

 

It had something for everybody, I believed: laughter and tears; girls, ponies, war, and whisky. It was so sad, in fact, that I laughed out loud when I read it to my wife, signalling (to my embarrassment) my own giddy sense of accomplishment.

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Oh, my heart. 

 

My breaking heart.

 

It was the best of concert news, it was the worst of concert news.

 

Too good to be true, and too far away (too expensive) for me to get there.

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Today, the birthday boy himself is guest-hosting my blog.

 

This is awesome, Jeff!

Thanks! And we're just gettin' started. wink.png

Edited by Overstreet

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I was grieved when I heard the Garfield House was up for sale, so special a place it has occupied in my imagination; I had always sort of dreamed of making some kind of a holy pilgrimage there.

 

But I also remember a conversation I had with Jay Bellerose, once upon a time. (Forgive the name drop.) I spoke with him briefly after the Reverie album release show, and he asked me if I had ever been in Joe's basement studio. "No," I said, "But I want to so badly!" He gave me sort of a quizzical look, shrugged, and said, "It's just a basement."

 

So I'm trying to take that to heart.

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