Joe Henry - Civilians (Anti, 2007)
In light of his recent successes behind the board, Singer-songwriter Joe Henry is as well known as a producer as he is a performer. His new album (first in four years) is an idiosyncratic tour through Americana, and to that end he makes an inspired move by having the master of improvised roots music, Bill Frisell, sit in on a few tracks. Henry's music moves slowly like a thick rolling river, so the intensity comes more from the urgency of his lyrics than the energy of his beat. Standout tracks include the glorious "Scare Me to Death" which allow his Dylanesque songwriting to simmer slowly and come to a very emotional conclusion. "Our Song" uses baseball legend Willie Mays as a metaphor for America and is a wonderful piece of work. "Time is a Lion" boosts the tempo from meditative with interesting philosophical underpinnings. Spirituality is another anchor in Henry's work, his characters are looking for answers, and will take inspiration anywhere that they can fins it. The only drawback to Henry's style is that he can recede a little too far into navel gazing introspection, and the album hits a bit of a lull 2/3 of the way through it with the ponderous "Love is Enough" and I"I Will Write My Book." But he rallies quickly and the album ends on an upbeat note. Henry echoes the best American songwriters like Dylan, Springsteen and Tom Waits in composing vignettes about modern life that speak volumes in a few choruses. This is a disc worthy of repeated spins by anyone interested in thoughtful songs.
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