Joe Henry | City Winery | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Joe Henry Recommended All Ages Early Warnings (Music) Soundboard Image

When: Mon., Jan. 19, 8 p.m. 2015

In the liner notes for his most recent album, Invisible Hour (Worksong), singer-songwriter Joe Henry writes, “Perhaps these are all songs about marriage—marriage, as a verb, not a noun.” It helps to hear them that way, because few musicians get as wrapped up in the love of language as Henry does, and this adoration sometimes makes his material difficult to parse. On the new record he uses plenty of phrases and metaphors that I don’t fully understand, but I always enjoy the way they sound—carefully chosen, exquisitely phrased words fall from Henry’s lips with audible relish. In “Sign” he spins an elaborate yarn about a wayward life—time spent at sea, a decade of gunrunning—before he shares the haunting memory of a young classmate “Who sat before me in back in school / And trailed a rope of braided hair / Across the back rail of your chair,” making that image stand in for his regrets about how life could’ve been different. Other songs, such as “Slide,” deal more explicitly with the fraught navigation of intimacy: “We’re dying to be other / But we’d kill not to become.” As usual the arrangements are warm and luxuriant, dominated by acoustic string instruments (masterful melodist Greg Leisz juggles guitar, mandola, mandocello, and lap steel), and Henry’s son Levon overdubs tender horn accents. The music is sensual and patient, with a sense of wonder as clear as the singer’s fascination with words. —Peter Margasak

Price: $28

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