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Joe Henry - Blood From Stars


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If I'm not mistaken, Levon Henry is Joe's son, and, from what I hear, a talented jazz musician in his own right. He's a horn player, so those who lamented the absence of horns on Civilians might like the arrangements better on this one.

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If I'm not mistaken, Levon Henry is Joe's son, and, from what I hear, a talented jazz musician in his own right. He's a horn player, so those who lamented the absence of horns on Civilians might like the arrangements better on this one.

Right. Oh, to have a kid named Levon. It doesn't work so well with girls, though. And Garfield House is Joe's home studio. For a little backstory on that, there is this.

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Here's the press release.

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Renaissance Man Eschews Decorum to Reveal More Vital, Raw and Dark 11th Album

Joe Henry's new record Blood From Stars begins with a poignant and haunting piano prelude before launching into "The Man I Keep Hid," a raw, bluesy track undercut with a ghostly voice of a man rambling on before Henry comes in with the first line "nobody knows the man that I keep hid." An apt beginning for Henry's eleventh full-length record, for Blood From Stars reveals a side of Henry rarely glimpsed in his recent work, which has been notable in its suave urbanity, poetic lyricism and literary sensibility. Rather, the new work is a passionate and direct breakthrough from one of today's most acclaimed singer songwriters.

"It's more emotionally available, certainly less mannered," says Henry, speaking of the difference between Blood From Stars and his 2007 release Civilians. "It's much more electric, in the literal and also the emotional sense of the word. It is raw, with many loose threads hanging."

Backed by a handpicked collection of players, including Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello) who worked with Henry on his 2001 release Scar and acclaimed jazz pianist Jason Moran, Henry crafted Blood From Stars with a clear idea of structure, but also with a refreshingly open and fluid approach to the outcome of the songs, creating a loose, swinging, vital sound.

"Partly, I just loved what happened when this particular group of musicians heard a song and had to respond to it in a very immediate way," Henry explained. "I can always go back to what I thought [the song should sound like], but if you limit them to your own imagination, then you're just cutting yourself off from the richest resource you have."

Henry has spent the better part of the last decade in a recording studio, lending his considerable talents and tastes to producing records from the likes of Solomon Burke (who's Henry-produced Don't Give Up on Me won a Grammy for the Best Contemporary Blues album of 2002), Bettye LaVette, and many others.

"When I find the production work to be satisfying, it really does fuel more work. I tell my wife,

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Brilliant album. Again. I can't say much about it because I have to review it, but the horns (mostly son Levon on tenor and soprano sax and clarinet) are back in a big way, Marc Ribot's guitar dances and stomps all over the proceedings, there's an appealing loose and improvisational approach that provides plenty of room for the musicians to add their individual contributions, and, as always, Joe Henry's lyrics blow my mind. It's not a comeback because Joe Henry has never gone away, and he's moved from strength to strength. But there's ample evidence of strength here.

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I'm not sure what happened to Joe Henry between the release of Scar in 2001 and Tiny Voices in 2003. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he began producing records for other people. Perhaps it's good old-fashioned inspiration. Regardless, he hit a songwriting and record-making peak that he hasn't come down from-- and I doubt he ever will.

Blood from Stars is his third masterpiece in a row. It's an inspired album-- bluesy and romantic, more immediate than Civilians but no less complex. In fact, I think his lyrics might be even more elliptical here. I'm enjoying spending time trying to sort them out, and I feel as though I've barely skimmed the surface, even after listening to it once or twice a day for a couple of weeks now.

He's back in Tiny Voices mode to some extent-- there's anarchy at the heart of these performances, and the horns are back-- but of course, Henry has never repeated himself, and this album is very much its own thing.

Highlights? Try every song on the album. "The Man I Keep Hid" is the most raucous, blustery song he's ever cut. "This is My Favorite Cage" is a poem set to music, with flamenco sketches via Marc Ribot. "Death to the Storm" is a bizarro blues anthem by way of trippy house party. "Bellwether" is a slowly-building storm-- and then it explodes. "Progress of Love" is my favorite song on the album, evoking the whimsical spirit and soft-shoe crooning of "I Will Write My Book" and "Lighthouse," while also somehow reminding me of Randy Newman. "Stars" is an explosive ending in the vein of "Your Side of My World," with a melody borrowed from Dolly Parton's "Down from Dover."

Amazing work.

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I'm not sure what happened to Joe Henry between the release of Scar in 2001 and Tiny Voices in 2003. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he began producing records for other people. Perhaps it's good old-fashioned inspiration. Regardless, he hit a songwriting and record-making peak that he hasn't come down from-- and I doubt he ever will.

Blood from Stars is his third masterpiece in a row. It's an inspired album-- bluesy and romantic, more immediate than Civilians but no less complex. In fact, I think his lyrics might be even more elliptical here. I'm enjoying spending time trying to sort them out, and I feel as though I've barely skimmed the surface, even after listening to it once or twice a day for a couple of weeks now.

He's back in Tiny Voices mode to some extent-- there's anarchy at the heart of these performances, and the horns are back-- but of course, Henry has never repeated himself, and this album is very much its own thing.

Highlights? Try every song on the album. "The Man I Keep Hid" is the most raucous, blustery song he's ever cut. "This is My Favorite Cage" is a poem set to music, with flamenco sketches via Marc Ribot. "Death to the Storm" is a bizarro blues anthem by way of trippy house party. "Bellwether" is a slowly-building storm-- and then it explodes. "Progress of Love" is my favorite song on the album, evoking the whimsical spirit and soft-shoe crooning of "I Will Write My Book" and "Lighthouse," while also somehow reminding me of Randy Newman. "Stars" is an explosive ending in the vein of "Your Side of My World," with a melody borrowed from Dolly Parton's "Down from Dover."

Amazing work.

I've been playing this album non-stop for the past couple weeks. I will hold my tongue. I will. But I don't want to.

I agree that every song is very, very strong. I agree that it's Joe's third masterpiece in a row.

Although it's difficult to pick one, my favorite song is probably "Channel":

I want my story straight

But all the others bend

From wondrous to strange

To beauty at the end

I move along

A swaying wire

Your talking drums

A perfect choir to my disarray

Disarray

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That makes me chuckle a bit, Andy, simply because "Channel" was the song that I had the hardest time getting into upon the first few listens. It seems that every Joe Henry album has one ballad that takes a while for me to find myself in-- on the last album, it was "Shut Me Up." But "Channel" has grown on me in a major way, and it's become one of my favorites, as well.

By the way, I remember someone here-- I think it was Jeffrey O.-- mention that he wished the band could have had more time to shine on Civilians. Anyone who shares that sentiment will be delighted by this album. Between this and the Allen Toussaint record, the Joe Henry Players are really getting their moment in the sun this year. Jay Bellerose, in particular, continues to dazzle me. I swear the man has eight arms. On "Bellwether" he bangs the hell out of something and makes it sound like a clap of thunder. Not sure what it is, but it's sublime.

Another thing I wanted to mention: Henry has said in the past that he hates being labeled as a melancholic or grim songwriter, because he considers all of his songs to be romantic and hopeful. Well, this is his most hopeful, romantic, and flat-out funny album yet, I think.

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This thread makes me think review embargoes exist mostly for the sanity of the non-reviewing public. This album doesn't come out until August? Those three months suddenly seem very long.

Edited by N.K. Carter

Nathaniel K. Carter

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"Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books." - C.S. Lewis

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After my first couple of listens, I e-mailed Gavin Breeden and commented to him that, on this album, Henry had dropped the political overtones of Civilians in favor of more intimate, interior themes. The more I listen, though, the more I think I was incorrect in that original assessment. Another fine example of the ever-elusive poetry of Joe Henry.

I'll say something more specific about that later.

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By the way, I posted a track-by-track "preview" of the album at my blog-- not a review by any means, but simply a description of the album's sound and structure and a chance for me to make a few connections, provide some context, and whet some whistles.

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Please put on your seatbelts and helmets: I'm reduced to blathering in the very superlatives that have been beaten senseless and slapped upon lesser albums, and I'm gonna throw them around. (Then, no doubt, I'll come crawling back to revise this, feeling rather embarrassed at my presumptuous claims and flamboyant outbursts.)

* * *

Joe Henry's Blood from Stars is a strong candidate for my Favorite Album of the... hmmm, yes, I'll say it... Decade. Right up there with Bob Dylan's Love and Theft. It's as raw and raucous and rowdy and raggedly beautiful as Tom Waits' Rain Dogs, and as stirring in its reverence for the gospel as anything I've heard since Dylan's Oh Mercy. Listening to it all the way through, I'm exhausted.

And speaking of Dylan: As a lyricist, Henry joins Tom Waits as one of the only American songwriters I know who really deserves comparison to the Master. His metaphors speak to powerfully to me that I've come to anticipate his work with the same kind of trembling eagerness that I feel when I earn about new albums from Sam Phillips or Over the Rhine. I don't like to use the word "masterpiece" anymore, as I don't think any work of art deserves such a label until we've had at least ten years to think it over... but Henry's last two albums

Edited by Overstreet

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Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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And speaking of Dylan: As a lyricist, Henry joins Tom Waits as one of the only American songwriters I know who really deserves comparison to the Master.

Indeed. Here's something I wrote for Paste about four years ago:

-------------------------------------------------------------------

Nick Hornby mostly got it right in High Fidelity. Music critics and music store employees are an insufferable lot. They sit around in ratty, coffee-stained T-shirts and debate esoteric topics, argue endlessly over whether Johnny Cash or Johnny Rotten was the better punk, and compile Top 100 Rhythm Guitarists lists that nobody reads. And I do it, too. It is, when you get right down to it, a pathetic sort of existence. So let me start the wretched proceedings by saying that, contrary to what Paste would have you believe in their recent Top 100 Living Songwriters issue, the second best songwriter in the world is a guy with the unassuming name of Joe Henry. I know. I compiled my own list. He

Edited by Andy Whitman
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Is that Paste piece online anywhere? I'd love to share it.

Okay, I'll just ask: May I have permission to reprint that on my blog? Should I ask Mr. Jackson?

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Is that Paste piece online anywhere? I'd love to share it.

Okay, I'll just ask: May I have permission to reprint that on my blog? Should I ask Mr. Jackson?

It's not online, as far as I know. It was in the printed magazine, but a lot of what has appeared there hasn't made it to the online archives.

And I certainly have no problem with your request, Jeffrey. Fine with me, but it wouldn't hurt to ask Josh (josh@pastemagazine) just to be on the safe side. Thanks.

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