There was a point when Joe Henry was strictly an alt-country artist. But in the past decade and a half, Henry has moved well beyond that world; as a producer he has worked with a broad range of artists including Ani DiFranco, Solomon Burke, Elvis Costello, and Allen Toussaint. On the North Carolina native's most recent recordings, his sound has fallen somewhere between jazz, folk, rock, and pop. For his eleventh album, Henry's stylistic wanderlust continues with the help of jazz-leaning players whose ranks include pianist Jason Moran, guitarist Marc Ribot, vibe player Keefus Ciancia, and his own saxophone-playing son Levon.
The noirish mood that infuses these songs gives the album a sort of Tom Waits hangover. In the dirge "Death to the Storm," Henry growls about how The tramps all huddle in their best now/Like a funeral in the sun amid a cacophony of reverb-soaked minor guitar chords and a series of drum rolls. Elsewhere, Patrick Warren's skill on the '88s, Henry's burnished warble, and a generous helping of flugelhorn gives "Progress of Love" a Randy Newman-like swagger. The blues are also given a unique touch. "The Man I Keep Hid" is a mid-tempo slice of Dixieland punctuated by some barrelhouse piano and Ribot's effective switch from six-string to cornet. "Truce," whose opening lines I clawed at your skirt/Like it was a dirt floor/And I could dig my way free/Of myself, taking more, are framed by a hint of squeezebox and the younger Henry's impassioned yet subtle wailing.
With Blood from Stars, Joe Henry proves his far-flung approach to music is as ingrained in his solo work as it is in the production jobs he involves himself in. (Anti-)
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