Joe Henry

"Tiny Voices" Big Reaction

“Dreamy, weathered and deceptively romantic…. A thoroughly soulful experience, not only in its deep blue groove
but also in the narratives of melancholic souls haunting every song.” Mojo

“Imaginez un crooner égrenant des textes à la beauté tarabiscotée sur fond d’un impressionnant imbroglio d’instruments... c’est jazzy et expérimental à la fois, ça ressemble à une fanfare de cirque fantôme ou un big band pour cabaret crépusculaire.” Télérama

“Il fait des disques comme les films qu’il aime... le songwriter américain le plus fascinant du moment.”

“Literate lyrics and smart arrangements elevate the singer-songwriter’s music to a new level.”
Los Angeles Times

“Has become master of his own brainy genre, one that weds the fiercest, most private poetry to edgy sound pastiches incorporating everything from ‘70s soul and hip-hop to free jazz and avant electronics.”
No Depression

More beautifully fractured fictions from jazz-inflected songwriter-producer.” Blender

“Boudoir music for the horn-dog intellectual.... a serious stylist.” Louisville Scene

“Dark and creepy to adventurous extremes.”

“A fractured cabaret of spectral craft, haunting songs, stubborn soul and burnished chromium guile.
Fogs and smoulders with elegant jazzy roll sounding like everything and nothing at all… a very wonderful thing.”
Time Out

“Un de ces magiciens de l’écriture qui réenchantent et transfigurent le song-writing à l’américaine....
chaque chanson s’envole sur les ailes de l’improvisation. Une somptueuse hérésie.” Inrockuptibles

“Depuis 20 ans il développe une oeuvre singulière, émaillée d’albums lumineux.” Zurban

“Que quelqu’un fasse venir ce garçon sur une scène par chez nous, TOUT DE SUITE !
C’est un géant ignoré, il faut absolument qu’il sorte de l’ombre. Sa place est tout en haut de l’affiche.”
Rock & Folk

“Sait faire respirer (vivre) ses chansons comme personnne, c’est très beau, très rare.”
Jazz Mag

“Quattro stelle e una luca, quella di Joe Henry, che brilla sempre piu intensamente” Buscadero

“A sharp view of the world and confidential experiences collide in a wonderful musical and
sonic fabric that is entirely his own.” Elvis Costello

oe Henry is best known for his two country-influenced albums, 1992's Short Man's Room and 1993's Kindness of the World, both of which feature members of the country-rock band the Jayhawks, but his musical direction has actually changed several times over the course of his recording career, reflecting his restless, adventurous spirit.
Henry was born in North Carolina, grew up in Michigan, spent the early part of his music career in New York City, and finally settled in Los Angeles in 1990 with his wife and son. After his little-heard 1986 debut, Talk of
Heaven, Henry debuted on A&M in 1989 with the rock & roll album Murder of Crows, which was produced by Anton Fier and featured Mick Taylor on guitar. From there he pared down to the quiet, entirely acoustic moods of Shuffletown (1990) before shifting into the country- and folk-influenced territory of Short Man's Room and Kindness of the World. The latter two albums earned him an excellent reputation among fans of alternative rock and country as a superb singer and songwriter. He followed Kindness with the five-song EP Fireman's Wedding a year later.
Henry's lyrics are a central focus of his songwriting, but even though he often writes in the first person, his songs are not "personal" in the manner of musicians who are often called singer/songwriters (a genre he doesn't like to be associated with). He's recorded some excellent country covers but he's equally interested in soul, funk, and rock & roll.
On Trampoline, released in 1996, Henry veered his music in an edgier, more rhythm-oriented direction. While he still employs acoustic instruments and even a pedal-steel guitar on several songs, Trampoline (much of which Henry recorded at a studio he set up in his garage) is more clearly defined by its drum loops, loud electric guitars, mysterious voices, and curious sonic textures. For this album Henry recruited guitarist Page Hamilton from the
band Helmet and drummer Carla Azar from the band Edna Swap. Fuse -- mixed with the aid of Daniel Lanois and T-Bone Burnett -- followed in 1999. ~ Kurt Wolff, All Music Guide

Joe Henry is one of those artists you tend to discover either by word of mouth or by accident. He's made eight critically acclaimed albums covering genres as diverse as country, jazz, blues, and rock, but is far from a
household name. Henry gets loads of press, but -- unless you count the eclectic programming of NPR -- little or no radio airplay. He looks like Paul McCartney circa 1965, but has never exploited his boyishly handsome
good looks. Chances are, if you're familiar with one of his more popular songs, it's because it was recorded by and became a huge hit for his very famous sister-in-law, a woman we all know as Madonna. Keen ears will
recognize the song "Stop," a dark, seductive tango off Henry's latest release, Scar, as being Madonna's über-hit, "Don't Tell Me," (it's the video where she dances around in a cowboy get-up) despite its wildly different
arrangement. That Henry is happily married to one of Madonna's younger sisters is perhaps just one of those many fortunate cosmic occurrences that frequent his life. Many times during our conversation, Joe Henry emphasizes how fortunate he feels that he's able to make a living doing what he loves, and acknowledges how blessed his life and career are. That superstardom has, to this point, eluded him seems of little consequence.

Every serious musician - hell, every serious artist of any kind - knows the work would be impossible if you ever stopped to think about it. You're not allowed to imitate yourself, but at the same time you have to stay true to yourself -- in the process of reinventing yourself. So all you have to do is follow your instincts and not overthink the damn thing -- except that you also have to not be stupid. All it takes, basically, is every bit of your intuition and your intelligence -- and some third faculty to keep the one from strangling the other.
Somehow or other, Joe Henry has always managed to thrive under these no-win rules. I've never dared ask him how, because I didn't want it to be my fault if thinking about it put sand in his crankcase. But I do know that in the ten years or so I've been listening, admiring and proselytizing -- from his austere, acoustic Shuffletown to his bass-heavy, looped-and-sampled Fuse (1999) -- he's become more and more himself: the voice grainier, the heartache rawer, the sense of love and awe more rapturous. Now, on Scar, he's managed to find the exactly right place to go next.
I did finally get around to asking Joe what his story was. He sent me an email saying he was born in Charlotte, N.C., in 1960, lived there until 1965, then Atlanta and Ohio, where he spent fourth through seventh grade as a classmate of Jeffrey Dahmer's. (You know, one of those things that means nothing, but how could you not mention it?) And then to Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, where he met the Ciccone family -- and, to jump ahead a little, married one sister and wrote a hit single called "Don't Tell Me" for the other. Let's see, went to college in Ann Arbor, moved to New York around the time his first record came out, in 1985, then to L.A. in 1990. Still there. He also told me -- I'm just going to quote this -- "I wear an 8 1/2 shoe, usually, though (depending on the manufacturer) I can sometimes make a 9 work. I am a fabulous cook. I have tried to start smoking many times, but just can't get it to 'take.' I am allergic to many brands of exterior oil-based paint. I am an excellent driver."
Okay, stop right there. See, that's Joe for you. Feigning to tell all, yet giving nothing away. Not a word about his politics (good), manners (ditto), who does his hair (woman on Ludlow Street, when he's in New York), favorite food (don't know), favorite composer (I'm guessing Duke Ellington), and exactly how he gets a size 9 to work (I'm guessing Kleenex in the toe). Won't tell you that he's been known to drink a martini -- I've seen this done. Won't brag about his taste in selecting people to play on his records -- he's got to be the only guy who's played with Mick Taylor, Brad Meldhau, T-Bone Burnett and the late Don Cherry -- and in choosing songs to cover. (He's also got to be the only guy to have recorded both the World War II weeper "We'll Meet Again" and Tom T. Hall's "I Flew Over Our House Last Night.") And ask him sometime about being in Bob Dylan's backup band on that episode of "Dharma and Greg" -- maybe he'll tell you, maybe he won't. Your basic man of mystery.
So here's Scar. And the real mystery, of course, is where he pulls these songs out of, how he knows the things you thought only you knew, and how he makes the music sound like these fluctuations of inner weather. Joe's always had a gift for songs about the utter and absolute misery of love, and in "Mean Flower" it's stretching him on the rack to a new pitch of unbearableness; yet in the title song, the prospect of two damaged souls truly seeing into one another verges on a state of grace. More artfully than ever, he's mixing textures and genres, from tango "Stop" (his "uncover" of Madonna's single) to blues dirge ("Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation") to neo-'70s jazz-funk ("Nico Lost One Small Buddha"), while always sounding exactly like himself. (Told you he listened to Duke Ellington.) And he's made his single smartest choice of collaborators: on "Richard Pryor," the free-jazz giant Ornette Coleman bestows a solo that's the perfect aural analogue of the spiritual free-fall in the lyric.
Scar captures that sense of wonder when you've dared to wish for a fresh impossibility and something more than you thought you deserved drops right out of heaven -- after you've worked your ass off. It's Joe Henry's best record. Hands down. So far.
- David Gates February 2001

Joe Henry was born in North Carolina, but since his dad worked for Chevy, the family moved to Georgia, Ohio, and Michigan as Joe was growing up.
He learned to enjoy each place for what it had to offer, and a lot of these experiences permeate his music. Through 5 albums and one EP, Joe has firmly cemented his position as one of the premier songwriters of today. He has been compared to the likes of John Prine, Van Morrison, and Bob Dylan, but has continued to trade in his own particular brand of aural impressionism--lyrics askew, tongue often in cheek, a voice from across the backyard fence and another lifetime.
Joe's most impressive album to date will be released early in 1999. Keep an eye out; you don't want to miss a thing!
Joe Henry stays true to the tradition of the songwiriting troubador with a restless muse that he seems dedicated to follow wherever it may lead him. In the past, he has experimented with roots rock, countrified folk, and jazzy crooning, with mixed results. Although the songs are always stellar, Henry seems to be on a constant search for the right sound blanket to wrap around his meticulously cratfted tunes. Trampoline, his most recent release, is a perfect fit, a pastiche of fascinating sounds and adventurous production that combine with his best batch of songs yet to form one hell of a great record.
As a songwriter, Henry has a brilliant eye for detail and ear for dialogue. The characters in his songs speak in direct language that is able to describe complex emotions and ideas simply, raising relevant issues without being preachy or overbearing. The sound is lush, yet edgy, drums that shuffle through thick air from a transistor radio somewhere in the corner of a desolate room, guitars slashing to and fro in a maelstrom of feedback bumping up against a shimmering silver curtain.
Check out the incendiary cover of Sly Stone's "Let Me Have It All" to see what happens when the funk is forced into a carbonated can and opened up after violently shaking the contents. "I Was A Playboy" is a crushingly beautiful act of self-reflection, an unflinching look at the necessity of ego and the casualties it leaves behind. Henry is able to invest each song with a distinct personality and still maintain a balanced cohesion throughout the record that makes for a deeply affecting listening experience which only gets better with each successive spin. Do not pass this one by.

Joe Henry is a unique, interesting artist. His 1997 release Trampoline was a revelation; a brilliant textured work. The songs were moody, slow percussive pieces with great grooves and lyrics filled with ambivalence. Ohio Air Show Place Crash was based on the image of the moment before the crash, slowly digging deeper and deeper into the groove. Fuse is filled with more hypnotic, carefully constructed songs. It starts well with Monkey, Henry's tale of patiently waiting and serving his love's memory until she comes back. The spare, echoing music creates a sense of living for sensation as do the lyrics, "I'll chew my lip to keep it sore." Henry's raspy, strangled sounding vocals serve his tales of fascination with the dark side and finding beauty in strange places. Like She Was a Hammer is a fascinating tale of obsession and a great example of how Henry combines his croaking vocals, layered drums and keyboard effects to create an undeniable groove. Fuse often has a dreamy feeling which is best appreciated if you can get into the right trippy mood.
Sometimes Henry's understated, poker face delivery can be a little too much. After six minutes of the deliberate Want Too Much, you might want to say, I get it, you want too much. The self satisfied account of his needs is less interesting than the fascinated, voyeuristic tales of Trampoline. With the help of similarly interested T-Bone Burnett, Henry clearly is very careful crafting the sound. The precise, layered soundscape is a large part of Henry's appeal. Still, after a while a little rocking and spontaneity is welcome. Live, many of he songs have improved thanks to big, well played drums and a slighty looser feeling. Skin and Teeth rocks more than anything else on Fuse or Trampoline. Because Henry's normally so reserved, it's a touching surprise when he opens his heart so freely, singing "I love you with my skin and teeth" over music that replaces the murkiness of much of the record with a simple driving beat. Great Lake is also helped by Henry showing a little emotion as well as a wry sense of humor. Maybe Fuse could have used a little more juice but his daring to work in a lo-fi idiosyncratic idiom is a large part of his charm. With the exception of a pointless remake of We'll Meet Again, Fuse is always interesting and it's often great.
All reviews .com
"...Next to Henry's enchantingly elusive new album, FUSE, his breakthrough TRAMPOLINE seems like a baby step. The songs still have gorgeous bone structure, but by sacrificing their meticulousness, Henry achieves a more enigmatic beauty..." 8 (out of 10) Spin

Scar is the third CD since Joe Henry traded in his B-team Jayhawks status for a kind of drowsy trip-hop motif, and it was a smart move. With his deliberate, choked-off delivery, he slips right into the genre, while his songcraft brings it something entirely new. Henry has had artistic aspirations from the beginning and the talent to see them through. Over the course of eight LPs, he's retained an uncanny knack for the unforgettable song ("Some Champions," "Ohio Air Show Plane Crash") on what are largely inconsistent efforts. Scar improves on this dilemma, yet in a way, that's the problem. The album's consistently good, yet devoid of the knockout punch. It certainly sounds gorgeous. Co-producer Craig Street, who's worked with Cassandra Wilson and Meshell Ndegeocello, seems to specialize in the smoldering sonic slow burn. Basses ring, strings swell, guitars moan, the arrangements are letter-perfect, but Scar never quite catches fire. "Rough and Tumble" is a romp that fails to reach a higher plain, and his version of the terrific song he gave his sister-in-law Madonna, "Stop," ventures way too far into Tom Waits territory, with Marc Ribot in tow. Jazz musicians Brad Mehldau and Brian Blade both contribute nice work, but the big surprise is the strange and wondrous appearance of Ornette Coleman, whose presence on the opener, "Richard Pryor Addresses a Mournful Nation" contributes to the CD's best song. It's a sad and transcendent tale told at a morphine-drip pace, and like most of Scar, a winning moment that seems like it could have been so much more
.Austin chronicle

Joe Henry - "Tiny Voices"
I loved Henry's Scar. I didn't love Joe Henry at the time; I simply took him for more of the same singer/songwriter/acoustic troubadour trash that revivified as an ideal in the late 90's. But then, on the recommendation of a friend and the promise of Ornette Coleman playing on a new rock record (I suppose that's technically correct, but Coleman has quite often "rocked" and a few of his middle era records - Dancing in My Head comes to mind first - are nothing short of rockroll), I went out, dropped money on Scar, and found myself a new hero. Joe Henry won me over.

I'm not sure about sales numbers and that sort of shit, but I'd hazard a wild-assed guess that Henry hasn't won over a ton of folks yet. He may never. And I am pretty damn sure he doesn't care. In fact I am sure he doesn't care. How? Simple - just listen to Tiny Voices. Only an absolute fool would reach back into smoky lounge and jazz music and hope to strike it rich in rockroll today. And to do so on two straight recordings, well you're either as damned a fool as they come or a wildly talented and focused sonuvabitch who could give two fucks less what rockroll wants in exchange for its bullshit fame. Sure, Henry will tell you, sure I'd like lots of people to hear my music...that's why I make it. But, what he won't tell you is that he ain't gonna compromise its integrity just for a few bucks cash and another chance to place his name under shrink-wrap.

There is no compromise on Tiny Voices, just a warm and wonderful earthy jazz vibe that sounds so much more alive (and human! Imagine that, music that sounds like flesh, bone, and blood) than seventy-three percent of all the lifeless canned music polluting the air these days. Sure it's somewhat derivative of Tom Waits, but without all of the obvious eccentricities. Yeah, it's slightly pretentious in its all-out embrace of lounge lizard-ism, but most of the pretense dissipates as it blends into astute performances and truly exceptional songcrafting. Henry isn't faking anything here. He's real. The music is real. And in the surreal reality of pop music today, that makes Henry a goddamn hero in my book.

Joe Henry - "Tiny Voices"
John Defore
**** 4 stars: More beautifully fractured fictions from jazz-inflected songwriter-producer

It may have taken Joe Henry a while to find a sound that avoids the dreaded singer-songwriter ghetto, but since 1996's Trampoline he has been refining something all his own-a densely layered, darkly shimmering sound that's part late-night jazz, part avant-garde chamber pop. Tiny Voices sucks the listener into fragments of weird fiction, such as a tale of a maid's kid fighting off molestation ("This Afternoon"), and pictures of emotions potent enough to leave a bruise ("Flesh and Blood"). Most tracks are less song than atmosphere, with Henry's seductively raspy voice competing with A-list improvisers like clarinetist Don Byron. But the record's instrumental voices always gel - if not into a groove, then as a roomful of smoke revealing just as much of the story as the lyricist wants to show.

"Tiny Voices" Personnel: Joe Henry (vocals, guitar); Chris Bruce, Gregg Arreguin (guitar); Don Byron (clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone); Ron Miles (trumpet); Dave Palmer, Patrick Warren (keyboards); Jennifer Condos (bass); Jay Bellerose (drums, percussion); Jim Keltner (drums); Niki Haris, Jean McClain (background vocals). Recorded at The Sunset Sound Factory, Hollywwood, California and The Jung Hotel, Pasadena, California between December 2002 & January 2003

Joe Henry once described his 1999 triumph, "Fuse," as his Bobby Womack record. He was only half-joking. "Fuse" is undeniably soulful, but it's more groove than grit, the kind of smooth seduction perfected by Marvin Gaye; it's a sexy record, boudoir music for the horn-dog intellectual.
On Henry's latest, "Scar," he dances around the physical act and deals with the before and, mostly, after, the point at which lust has been replaced by love and longing. It's a romantic record, not a sexual one, firmly in the tradition of Frank Sinatra's "In the Wee Small Hours."
With its subtle orchestration, phalanx of jazz musicians and late-night vibe, "Scar" is yet another stylistic shift for the mercurial Henry. This leap isn't as radical as his jump from alt-country to tape loops (1996's brilliant "Trampoline"), and longtime listeners may not even be much surprised. Some elements here stretch all the way back to Henry's 1990 album, "Shuffletown," and there are lingering traces of "Fuse," but "Scar" is very much its own beast.
The record's personality is established with the first song, "Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation." It's a slow burn, filled with shadows that are only deepened when saxophone giant Ornette Coleman drops an impossible solo into the song's dark center. Coleman nearly reinvents the blues, playing hotly against the coolness of a restrained orchestra and Henry's whispery singing. That moment sets the tone for the entire record and lets you know that the ever-restless Henry is again ready to challenge his own muse.
Perhaps the biggest difference is in the direct nature of the lyrics. Henry's characters don't talk in beautiful, oblique circles, which is his usual style, but instead look love dead in the eye. "Tell me love isn't true, it's just something we do / Tell me everything I'm not, but don't tell me to stop," an estranged lover tells his heart's desire in "Stop." It's almost a threat.
On "Cold Enough to Cross," a total crooner standard, Henry channels Johnny Mercer and Billy Strayhorn while pianist Brad Mehldau and the orchestra sway softly behind him. "Just think what a day's rain can do / A bridge once between us is lost / I set it to sway and now here I stay, 'til it's cold enough to cross." As he does throughout the album, Henry sings it with immense tenderness and an unique expressiveness; he's become a serious stylist.
"Scar" is not without Henry's typical idiosyncracies (fans of his more elliptical lyric writing will still find plenty to admire, especially on "Edgar Bergen"), but the most striking moments here are the most direct. The title track, a gorgeous creature, dissects the human heart with an impressive expansiveness, acknowledging that love, good or bad, leaves a scar, "a twisting vine, a mark so fine."
This record also leaves a scar, although you might not even notice you're cut at first. Its many charms ebb and flow, with the quiet moments sinking in only after repeated listens, but suddenly you're bleeding, gushing, really, and grateful for the wound. It serves as a reminder that Henry has crafted another potent, rewarding jewel of an album. Louisville Scene

You'd think that Joe Henry would be sick of the whole Madonna thing. Try, just try, to read anything regarding Henry that doesn't mention his idiot sister-in-law. It's impossible. Motherfucker is newsworthy more because of Madge than his own music. And, I imagine that sucks.
But if Henry's recent activity is any indication, being related to Madonna is a badge to wear proudly. He penned her surprisingly popular, "Don't Tell Me," and consequently, caught himself a wad of royalty cash. As a bonus, Henry has included his version of the song (renamed, "Stop," as in, "Don't ever tell me to stop") on his newest record, Scar. And it's the first single. Oh, the novelty.
And novelty is all it is. If the song's lack of luster wasn't redundantly clear the first 5,000 times we heard it on the radio, Henry's version proves that the song has all the might to make "This Used to Be My Playground" sound like a gut-wrenching masterpiece. This is not for lack of trying on Henry's part; musically, the song has little to do with the electro twang slop Mirwais laid down for Madonna. Henry raises the song to a level of innocuousness with a Latin-tinged take that comes complete with clopping drumbeats and strings fit for tangoing. Of course, the song's inane lyrics remain intact.
The bulk of Scar is equally bland. Henry, you see, belongs to that segment of the recording population that we like to label, "adult alternative." Essentially, this means he's a fairly skilled musician who writes MOR songs that suffer from sappy overproduction. He's always sat somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Don Henley in the singer/songwriter cafeteria, though on Scar, he practically shares french fries with the Eagle.
But it's pointless to hold his lack of hipness against him. It's even okay that, he delivers "Struck" with a straight face-- a tune that's laid-back in a sort of Sade-on-steroids manner. What's unforgivable is that the eerily pretty "Lock and Key" features production so glossy that it tampers with the song's inherent atmosphere. "Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation" is morosely slow 12-bar blues that features a gonzo sax solo blown by Ornette Coleman. His rapid note playing is jarringly discordant with the under-60bpm not-quite-trip-hop, mechanized beats. And not in the good way.
And as "Stop" suggests, Henry stays starkly in the middle of the road when it comes to lyric writing. In the happily tepid, Brand New Heavies-esque, "Rough and Tumble," Henry wraps his rusty croon around, "Your face was a brilliant mask/ It came off in my hands." He similarly avoids triteness and insightfulness simultaneously on the love song, "Scar," when he sings, "You love me because you are/ As fearless as a twisting vine." He's not a bad lyricist, per se, but one that invokes flat imagery too often to be anything but faux-poetic.
Certainly, Scar isn't the record that will break Henry out of the shadow of his familial icon. Still, the blatant piggybacking on the album is ultimately appropriate; Scar is just about as uninspiring and dull as being forced to listen to Ray of Light and Music back-to-back. On repeat. For days.
-Richard M. Juzwiak

He may be known best as Madonna's brother-in-law, but Joe Henry has never let the association spill over onto disc (barring the time he got Madge to sing on a Vic Chestnutt tribute album).

His music could loosely be construed as "adult contemporary" in the same sense that Tom Waits could, and he has a remarkable knack for mixing up the accessible and poppy with the dark and creepy. He takes that technique to adventurous extremes on Scar, lacing smoky tunes with strings, jazz and Latin elements, and loping electro-rock.

It's a formula that's been done to death already, yeah, but in Henry's hands, it gets a stunningly original treatment. Factor in an almost unheard-of guest spot by free jazz legend Ornette Coleman, and work by sometime Waits guitarist Marc Ribot, and the poignant historical edge of songs such as Richard Pryor Addresses A Tearful Nation, and Scar becomes a giant achievement. (More on: Joe Henry). canoe .ca

Joe Henry crafts music of raw grace and muted passion, a sound endlessly smoky, contemplative and cool." La times
The opening track announces his intentions, adding a jazzy backdrop to a stormy, 21st-century torch song. "Struck," a tale of having wicked thoughts, is lined with an island beat that adds a slippery sense of danger. "Rough and Tumble" finds the best blend, building a skeptical love song over a shuffling groove. The experimentation can be a bit too much. "Nico Lost One Small Buddha" spins off into chaos, disjointed jazz improv rambling over a grungy rock beat. But more often it works, pouring into the spaces between his cryptic words, his shag-carpet voice ringing full inside a cavern.
"Stop" might sound like a rip-off of Madonna's latest hit, "Don't Tell Me." It's actually the same song -- he wrote it for her, and offers his own dustier rendition here. And oh yeah, he's her brother-in-law.
Tarleton Gillespie, Union-Tribune
As crucial as writing great songs and capturing peak performances on tape, a great album requires a unique musical mood. Like Van Morrison's "Astral Weeks" or Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" or countless others, a record with a defined musical territory unifies the artist's concept and separates it from those albums that are just a string of disparate tunes.
In the case of "Scar," Henry has succeeded and created a darkly melodic batch of songs buried in a smoky, jazz nightclub-like atmosphere. The record, Henry's eighth, is easily the best of his career.
Reminiscent of jazz, the songs' arrangements are precise yet the performances feel loose ?- pianos, guitars, bass percussion and strings colliding ?- and compete with Henry's yearning vocals.
The record opens with the elegant crawl of "Richard Pryor Addresses A Tearful Nation." Ever stumbling, the melody is coaxed forward by teasing piano licks and sluggish drums until it flowers with a swelling clarinet/oboe section. The sorrowful song features lines that might have crossed the mind of the once-great comedian (who now suffers from multiple sclerosis) in real life: "You look at me and it's like you've seen a ghost." The song's centerpiece is a spiraling, fluid solo from free jazz legend Ornette Coleman.
Strip away the flamenco beat, big-band string passages and the lonesome, stinging guitar from "Stop" and it's recognizable as the stuttering second single from Madonna's latest album. "Stop" (or "Don't Tell Me" as it appeared on Madonna's "Music") is a Henry original that he passed it along to his sister-in-law, Ms. Ciccone, during the "Music" sessions. Madonna eventually recast the song in a more contemporary dance mold. Henry's version is a tango of spell-binding heartache.
Although the central theme of "Scar" is one of love gone wrong, the upbeat tempos of the music like the classy, hard-swinging drum-bass groove in "Rough and Tumble," keep listeners nodding with the rhythm instead of weeping in their beer.
Like the very meaning of the word, "Scar," once the music sets in, strikes a mood -- a feeling -- that is permanent and unchanging. And that's a good thing. Channel 3000