Life in Music inspired by Joe Henry

maandag 30 oktober 2017

Producing the Milk Carton Kids

Hello all,

Joe's own album Thrum has just been released.
If everyone has read the press about it, I'm sure you will all already noticed that other piece of info. Last week, the L.A. Times gave us a pre-listen of these new songs. But hidden in the entire story there was this 1 sentence :

“I’m deeply invested in poetry, and I write a lot of it,” Henry, 56, said from Nashville recently, where he’s wearing his producer’s hat yet again, working on a new collection with L.A. folk duo the Milk Carton Kids.

A little while ago, Joe also posted a picture on Instagram rehearsing with them :

Een bericht gedeeld door Joe Henry (@joehenrymusic) op

Recordings seem to be done in the House of Blues studios in Nashville. Singer Lindsay Loubelly posted a picture, recording with Kenneth Pattengale for a new Milk Carton Kids album.

We are witnessing something interesting for the duo Kenneth and Joey Ryan. They are not alone over there! Not only is Lindsay Loubelly singing, but you also see an upright-bass player in the picture. 

And, also:  Joe's there, and during that week "Jay Bellerose was in Nashville making an album."...

I'm pretty sure we are in for a treat.


donderdag 26 oktober 2017

My musings on 'Thrum'

'I know fact from fiction know they are the same, 2 sides of believing' 

Today the new album ‘Thrum’ by Joe is released. It is no surprise to you all, that I’m very thrilled with it. To me, Joe keeps on making some of the most interesting, strong and relevant music out there. Whether it is for himself, or for someone else.

With Thrum, I welcome an album that reflects our times. All the challenges that we face, as a human being, or as a society. It reflects our loves and our fears. I can’t tell if these songs where written and made with these intentions, but it is how I received them. But let me now write about his album. It's up to you to read and be


‘Thrum’ was recorded with Joe’s regular Tribe. Jay Bellerose, Levon Henry, David Piltch, Patrick Warren, Ryan Freeland… In the Liner Notes Joe wrote about Ryan’s part. He did not only mix what he heard, like most previous recordings. No, he manipulated it live and recorded that in realtime. There are songs where it is very subtle, but other songs it is clear where Ryan’s work is happening. It is a different approach then what we are used to from Joe’s work, and
on the other hand : It is exactly what we are used to from Joe’s work. Live recordings with everyone in the room, interacting with each other. This time also Ryan brings in his art in interaction with the musicians. Yes :  Art !  Something I’ve been aware of since a long time, but it can not be overseen anymore with his album. Ryan is almost always labeled as ‘Recording engineer’, ‘Mixer’,… Words that make a connotation to a very practical, ‘behind-the-scenes’, part of recording.  But Ryan Freeland is an Artist. His instruments are Microphones, mixingtables, reverb-units,….
During most recordings it is normally a  one-way communication from the musicians towards the recordingdesk, while the playing musicians interact with eachother. I can only imagine for Joe’s tribe of musicians it was a very natural idea to also interact live with Ryan.

In its entirety ‘Thrum’ feels like a narrative. From prologue ‘Climb’ up to the climax in songs ‘Hungry’ and ‘Quicksilver’, and finally ‘keep us in song’ as resolution.
What is a prologue without an opening sentence ?  “Here lies Billy the kid, here lies his Gun.” But are these really the opening words ? I’m already a few sentences in. Hearing Joe counting off builds up a curiosity, which is only strengthened by the guitarplaying, and then Levon Henry on Alto Saxophone. I don’t know about you, but I want to keep reading!

“All that I loved, loved me back, let me go”. 

‘Climb’ already blows me away. A sad and melancholic song about things that are legendary to us. But now they are gone...
Each character in the song has let us go, but we are unable to do the same thing. The more important something is to us, the harder it is to deal with the moment it decides to leave us. You need it so badly, but all that is left, is your need for it. It’s a sad thought. but the title of the song gives away what we need to do and what we will do.

here lies the best of us,
and here stand the rest of us:
dying, trying not to let on—
a heart surrendering everything
hunger has won

Now let us Climb.

‘Believer’ is a song that Joe already presented us during the ‘Invisible Hour’ tour as a cross between 'Amazing Grace' and 'Let's get it on'. It is an ode to our lovers.
I guess those, in the U.S., who’ve witnessed the Invisible Hour Tour, heard kind of the demo version of this song. I noticed a tiny shift in the lyrics of the last chorus. 2 different words, which create an entire different feel. I find it very interesting, because we can see an artist finishing the last rough edges on his sculpture.

3 Years ago Joe sang :
Oh, my hunger
my revolution,
leading headlong into blue—

the character is displayed as a basic need that takes the lead. The protagonist is dependent of the antagonist.

Today we can hear :

Oh, my witness,
my revolution,
marching headlong into blue—

Now there is no difference in status anymore between the poet and his/her muse.
One can’t be without the other.

‘The dark is light enough’, starts with anger. A bitter song about seeing that your biggest fears seem to be happening, and somehow you will have to deal with it.

I stood at the window
like what I feared might be outside.
My cage, it has betrayed me
holding neither time nor love,
but letting in a dark I know
must still be light enough

There is another verse in this song that deserves your attention. These musings did get a little out of hand, so I've written that in another entry. Go and read it !

‘The world of this room’ is such a wonderful ballad! It reminds us that, in difficult times,  we should never forget the good things we have.
‘The Glorious dead’ is another highlight on the album. Do you remember, at the big steps you’re taking in life, how it all feels ? That excitement in the mix of letting go, and looking forward. The wonderful confusion ? It is beautifully displayed in this song.
Confusion is something that we are confronted with a few times in this album, just like we are confronted with it in everyday life. ‘River floor’ is a song that literally makes us see things from the opposite angle. When you first hear it, it confuses you, and that confusion opens new insights. Another song that gives us confusion is ‘The world of this room’. Just when you think how short this song is, it wakes you up and carries on. These are wonderful portrayals of the confused times we live in, and at the same time they do what needs to be done. We need to be confused to see things differently! Where in ‘The world of this Room’ It is confusing us over the endings. ‘River floor’ Confuses us on the questions and stories we hear. It shows us for example that sometimes the answers we seek, simply lie in the questions we ask.

Oh, come let us be hungry in the world,
together we’ll be hungry;

With everything going on in today’s society, ‘Hungry’ asks us to change direction before it is too late. Our world we live in, whether we talk about our climate, our society, our freedom and peace. It is all under pressure. Let us all together remove that pressure ! Let us be Hungry in the world, together….
Because, what do we see when we put a mirror in front of us ?  Where are we today ? A question raised in ‘Quicksilver’. 

We’ve made a ghost of hours
surrendered every war,
until even God must laugh and nod
At just how free we are;
but the saints grow tired waiting out
the tidings of our sea,
As we spill all of our will
between us, you and me

‘Now and never’ is such an amazing beautiful song. A song about truth. What is it ? In general and for me personally. and what are the elements that I still need to discover? Let it not be just words. I know :  at times truth can be scary, but maybe there is a degree of understanding and acceptance that is still yet to come to us….

Acceptance,…. is something that we find in closingtrack ‘keep us in song’. ‘Song’ as a metaphor for wathever it means to you. Life, society, this world, us, … I guess the same metaphore was made in ‘Blood of the forgotten song’.  The forgotten song, meaning the parts in our history we don’t remember. But we must remember, we can’t cut it out.  How can you separate present, past and future ? Everything we are today, comes from our past. It will lead to our future… It’s all connected.
‘Keep us in song’ teaches us an important lesson. It is about discovering the fact, that as an individual, we can’t grasp everything. It is about understanding that it is together, with those around us, that it will work.

Last night I lay thinking
I’d dropped the last thread
that stitched every dream
to the top of my head;
they’ll all fly and leave me
but I’ll get along––
with yours here beside me
to keep me us song


'Thrum' is released on 27 October 2017, available on Joe's Website.

I know fact from fiction

In ‘The Glorious Dead’ (from the album Thrum), between each sentence : there is just enough time left, to build an idea in your head. I see here a master songsmith at work. Because it offers you so many layers in a verse. Let me explain how it enters my mind with, with what I find, the strongest words in this song, perhaps on this album.

I know fact from fiction,
Hearing this sentence, I get an unmistakable critic to the leaders who are selling every inconvenient truth as fiction, and each desired fiction as truth. Off Course Trump in front of them all. You hear an anger in the line, it’s statement against these people.  The line is followed by

know they are the same
And now I’m confused. I expect an explanation, and I know it will be there in the next line.

two sides of believing
And here we arrive at a huge and complex situation in today’s society. It exposes a difficult question : What is truth ? (BTW a question also occurring later on the album in ‘Now and Never’) When we approach it, as our view upon the world, you can not deny there is no 1 truth, everyone has his own. How you look at the world, with everything that has shaped your live, is a very personal thing.
But let me pick a specific situation in the world : Climate change. There is scientific evidence enough that it is happening. Now that’s a truth. But we notice that it is not enough to act on it. You have those who believe, and those who don’t. I can imagine it is much easier to disbelieve, because then there is nothing to act on, so for your own peace of mind, you can turn a blind eye. But climate change is an evolution effecting us all, so we need to act with the full population.
What’s at stake ? Does this earth’s future is one where humans will be a part of, or will we disappear ? It’s scary to even think about it, but we must !

I know fact from fiction,
know they are the same
two sides of believing

in the singing of God’s name

Now another sentence in, and we are facing another challenge in this world. Our approach to religions we are unfamiliar with. But if we broaden the horizon, and use the term 'God's name' as a metaphore for anything sacred to us, wether it is religion, culture or other rules, ways of live,.... we are opening up this song to every challenge we are facing.

that knows itself in hunger,
These are the things that feed our view on everything,  they are a part of who we are.

the never-ending fight
It are all strugglings existing for so many centuries. And it doesn’t look like we will find peace in them.

the kiss that lives between us
Let us not forget that aside from these differences, there can be a connection between us.

where the dark keeps all the light
But we hardly see that, because we only look at the differences.

8 lines, but they made me think about our entire universe.....

I know fact from fiction,
know they are the same—
two sides of believing
in the singing of God’s name;
that knows itself in hunger

the never-ending fight—
the kiss that lives between us
where the dark keeps all the light 

click to read my entire musings on 'Thrum'.

woensdag 25 oktober 2017

Pre- listen Thum


A few days before the official release these songs are out there.

Go over to the LA Times.

The 5 essential John Prine songs

WfUV Asked Joe to give us John Prine's 5 most essential songs.

In truth, I’d be hard pressed to just choose the five most essential off his first album alone. And though I’ll play along and invite you to pretend right with me that such a smattering might possibly be suggestive of the whole of his wide-arcing story, this will never really do....

Discover, and read about Joe's choices at WfUV .

In the meantime : enjoy Joe himself perform John Prine's 'Stormy Windows' together with Birds of chicago. And these last ones, I discovered, have their upcoming European tourdates on the site. Mark your calendars !

vrijdag 13 oktober 2017

Joan Baez on her last album and tour.

Variety has an interview with Joan Baez. Joe is producer of her upcoming album, which will also be her last album.

CREDIT: AGF s.r.l./REX/Shutterstock

She speaks about the songs she has picked for this album, and doing a last bit of touring next year.

“I’ve done something from Antony & The Johnsons, two from Tom Waits – ‘Last Leaf’ and ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ – Josh Ritter, one from an unknown, Zoe Mulford, brilliant. Twelve songs and they’re done. There’s one I might redo, Steve [Earle’s], because it has too much instrumentation and you need to hear the words.”

“Next year is my last year of formal touring,” said Baez. “There will be four different tours, one month each, and then that’s it."

zondag 8 oktober 2017

upcoming Steep Canyon Rangers

As mentioned before, Joe was involved in a new Steep Canyon Rangers album.

They've performed the song 'The speed we're traveling' for Pre-war Guitars Co.

They mentioned it was a song from the band's forthcoming album that will be out in January 2018. 

Edit : It is confirmed that Joe is producer of the upcoming album.