SCAR (Mammoth) Joe Henry
In the Steve Earle interview in our December issue, I asked him what songwriters kept him working hard, and Joe Henry was the first name on his lips. So I picked up Fuse ('99) online and contacted Mammoth Records for the new one, Scar.
Although I'm led to believe there may be one or two records in his catalog of 8 or 9 that resemble what are normally regarded as singer songwriter discs, these last two that I've begun with are nothing of the kind. In these, especially Scar, he is a poet producer, heart and mind behind the rich tapestries of sound woven around one daunting song after another.
Fuse was on many Top Ten lists of '99, top 5 of the New York Times. It's an interactive CD -- when I popped it in the iMac, up came a funny interview with Joe Henry, played by Billy Bob Thornton. There were also impressive clips of a JH quintet playing several tunes live on Sessions at West 54th St. So Fuse is a must have, as well.
Scar is deep, a rewarding recording. I will be listening to it for a while before I have what I usually call a grip on it. The lyrics are some of the best I've ever run into in popular music. Jazz giant Ornette Coleman pushes it even further out of reach, yet he is inviting. I'm on my fifth play, and it keeps getting mightier, more profound. The words are so beautiful that we may provide links to them. Better yet, have yourself a look around Joe's very tasteful and intriguing website, at joehenrylovesyoumadly.com. There's also a great Joe page at queendork.com.
I won't belabor the fact that Joe went to high school with Madonna and is married to her sister Melanie, but it is significant to our purposes to say that his sister-in-law had a top ten hit with his song "Don't Tell Me." He's quite famous to the famous, and a superstar in some enlightened global locales. Over 8 records he's evolved from a more Alt-Country poet to a sound sculptor where the Jazz and Funk samples and masters overgrew his Folk or Country roots, and the rather peerless lyrics have grown more impressionistic. He's one of the very best we have. Buy Scar, buy Fuse. Like me, you may find yourself retracing the steps that Joe Henry has taken. FG