Joe Henry | Maurer Hall, Old Town School of Folk Music | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Joe Henry All Ages Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard Recommended Critics' Picks

When: Sat., March 13, 7 p.m. 2010

In recent years Joe Henry has earned more acclaim as a producer—he's worked with American roots and soul greats like Allen Toussaint, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and Bettye LaVette—than he has as an artist in his own right. Though his albums have long drawn inspiration from vintage Americana, he transforms it into something a bit less accessible with his quasi-poetic lyrics and clouds of murky ambience. On his latest, Blood From Stars (Anti-), he drinks heavily from the blues, but the thick, moody atmosphere he creates as producer provides the dominant flavor. Longtime Henry drummer Jay Bellerose defines the edges of the record's huge sonic space with a cavernously booming bass drum at one end and featherlight snare at the other; filling in the middle are stabbing, stinging guitar (and occasional cornet) from Marc Ribot, billowy organ and stuttering piano from Patrick Warren, and swells of bass from David Piltch. The core instruments stick together but never quite lock down, giving their ensemble work the beautifully disheveled feel of Howlin' Wolf's Sun sides—and the way Henry plays with overdubs and postproduction effects makes some of his arrangements sound like an old radio tuned halfway between two different versions of the same song. Henry is an elegant singer, and because his melodies aren't especially assertive his slightly nasal voice sometimes works like just another instrumental layer. If there's a problem with Blood From Stars, it's that some of Henry's lyrics are too arty—they sound great in his mouth, but they don't always make much sense. When he's more direct—like in "The Man I Keep Hid," where he mercilessly indicts his own double life—he's a lot more effective. —Peter Margasak

Price: $22, $20 members, $18 seniors and children

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