A blog for Joe Henry fans

zaterdag 8 september 2018

Shuffletown on Vinyl

Last week, Joe's 3th album Shuffletown was released on vinyl. Ever since its release in 1990, this is the first time this album is released on Vinyl.

'Why is this one pressed on Vinyl ?', is not the correct question to ask. The question is: 'does it deserve to have such a re-release after 28 ! years?' Joe ,Is it something you need to grab your breath for, for a second ?

... Where did time go ? Sandy Denny already asked that question in 1967.

Shuffletown, and certainly the making of it, is maybe the most important album for Joe Henry. Produced by T. Bone Burnett, it marked the beginning of a journey that, today, still is on-going.
I'm sure there always would have come a 'Shuffletown', but where would Joe be today, if T Bone,  musical genius and mountain was not behind the desk? If he did not step in to Joe's life?

Perhaps it was ment to be ? I mean if your full name is Joseph Henry Burnett, what are the odds your path crosses Joseph Lee Henry...

T Bone presented Joe an other way of recording music. The album was recorded in 3 days, with a band performing the music live. Today, Joe himself is known for using this way of producing. The result of it are all gems for the artists he worked and works for.  All those albums are simply amazing.
Today this is a comfortable way of working for Joe, who sometimes has to convince artists of this method, but at the time of Shuffletown it was a new and nervous-making approach¹ for Joe.

But this, to me, is actually a small practical outcome of it all. Joe himself said he learned that, when recording music  you're engaging something that's already in play and you're trying to abide it.¹
We are only the medium to get this art out there. It is about the songs in the first place. And these songs deserve an honest chance. And when it comes to this, what is more honest then trying to grasp that moment when the musicians play together, and how they play together ? Trying to reproduce take after take after take is not a good idea when it comes to that. That is why T Bone Burnett wanted 'Shuffletown' to be recorded on an analog 2 track, instead of a multitrack. That way he ensured that no one would be able to "fuck with it" later.¹ 

The album was released, but it left Joe without a record deal. On the positive side, Joe could start working as a production assistant for T Bone. Joe had found his mentor, and he evolved in the great producer, and musicmaker he is today.

Shuffletown is a beautiful album. Its cover presents you 2 images. A boy holding 2 pigeons next to a boy holding down another kid. White next to brown/orange... I'll let your mind shuffle with it.

But Shuffletown does really exist. It's a community that grew around 'Shuffletown Dragway'. It's actually a bit cynical that the dragway had to dissapear because people living in the community started complaining about the noise of the dragway (that originated the community).

But back to the music. Everyone familiar with T Bone and Joe's work will recognise the clear sound of all the musicians evolved in this record. I personally am most in love with the mandolin and accordion sounds nestling in my ear. But what else can you expect with such great musicians, backing Joe up. David Mansfield (Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash), Cecil McBee(Wayn Shorter, Keith Jarrett), Phil Kelly, Michael Blair(Tom Waits), Charlie Giordano(Bruce Springsteen), Don Cherry(Ornette Coleman, Sonny Rollins)  and T Bone Burnett.

Today, it is really nice to hear these songs so fresh on vinyl. It's been a long time since Joe has played them live, but I know his audience sometimes request them. I f.e. remember someone asking 'John Hanging' during a concert. (We didn't get to hear it by the way). It doesn't matter, I'll let Joe choose for what he feels comfortable that evening, because that's the most honest towards the song.

So yes, I do believe this album deserves the re-release on vinyl. 


1 : A life in pursuit, Lloyd Sachs

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