Life in Music inspired by Joe Henry

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.

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