Still don't feel like I've fully absorbed Joe Henry's last record, "Civilians", a late career masterpiece, when up comes a new work, "Blood From Stars". Thanks to the good folks @NPR, it's available here to listen before its release. Let this be the first of what's a promising crop of fall releases, most notably new platters from Yo La Tengo, Mission of Burma, and the Arctic Monkeys, among others.
Mr. Henry sprung into view two decades ago, with the Jayhawks as his backing band, no less! Subsequently he drifted into a more beat oriented singer songwriter drift, alienating his earlier Americana fans, but thrilling those more forgiving of stylistic quirkiness. Along the way he became a noted producer, bringing his unique sonic textures to boutique projects ranging from Bettye LaVette to Aimee Mann to Ani DiFranco. His own career never measured up to the critical hosannas ladled upon him, but it didn't seem to deter him from cranking out reliably odd pieces of work like "Scar" and "Fuse". Record labels had no idea what the hell to do with him, and he finally found truly kindred spirits in Anti, home of Tom Waits, among others.
Which pretty much brings us back to "Civilians", where his songwriting peaked, and the melodies coalesced with a more streamlined sound to make a flowing series of simple epics, if that makes any sense at all...it really has to be heard to be believed.
"Blood From Stars", at least after two listens, keeps the streak alive w/winning songs, but the soundscapes are back to the more challenging, pinned to a bedrock survey of American musics, the jazz, blues, country, and folk underpinnings providing the foundation. He still hasn't lost his taste for odd samples, garnering major points in my book for a brief snippet from Melvin Van Peebles iconic "Sweet Sweetback's BadAssssss Song". Bringing it all back home, indeed. Truly one of America's great hidden treasures, some consider him my generation's Dylan or Neil Young, but this tightly packed headphone masterpiece finds him peering towards the vistas of Ellington...