Civilians – Joe Henry

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As a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic with a career stretched across two decades, Henry has drank from the living, spoke with the dead, and chewed the fat with the Gods throughout his career. His earliest years brought us down a country king’s highway draped in barbwire greetings and visions of someone drowning with a smile on his face. At the turn of the century he delivered us a colorful spectrum of tape loop love songs drenched in sarcastic solitude, siphoned directly from the soul. And for his latest outing, the soul sonic adventurer has taken us on what feels like his most aged and honest lo-fi discourse to date.

“It’s stripped down and folksier in nature”, says Joe Henry on the press kit interview regarding his latest Anti release, Civilians. From the opening track one can sense a soft drift from the prior loop-based releases to a more traditional path of picking up a guitar and starting from scratch. A soulful set of lungs have always run thick across his music, especially in his last two releases. With such a strong shift in writing styles, (which came somewhat naturally to him), the music has benefited heavily, opening new doors to a more stripped down sound.

Aside from completely changing his writing style, Henry also wanted to establish a different feel to the total sound of the album. “I wanted production to be as significant,” he says, “but I wanted it to be invisible.” By invisible, I would imagine he wanted the audience to feel that this album was not mixed and produced through big boards and other expensive equipment, therefore distancing them from the music slightly. He felt that his fans deserved to feel that every time they pop the album in they are getting their own private performance. And by the sound of the album, he must be very satisfied with the outcome, because it does come off as his most organic recording in many years.

Though a four year hiatus was taken between solo albums, Henry has been anything but taking time off. During his “time off”, he produced for the likes of Ani Difranco, Aimee Mann, Betty LaVette, and for a collaboration album with Elvis Costello, The River in Reverse. Henry also received full production credit on Solomon Burke’s Grammy Award winning album Don’t Give up on Me. I would highly recommend you buy that album the same time you go out to purchase this one. One of the more surprising writing credits would have to be the multiple collaborations with Madonna on such songs as “Don’t Tell Me”, “Jump”, and “Guilty by Association”. Any sense of shock and revulsion one might experience from such news might be tempered by exposing the fact that he has been married to Madonna’s sister, Melanie, since 1985.