Joe Henry is one hell of a musician. He is a guitarist, songwriter, vocalist, and producer who has produced for and/or collaborated with a staggering myriad of talent including Bill Frisell, Van Dyke Parks, Madonna, Allen Toussaint, Susan Tedeschi, Billy Bragg, Ani Difranco, Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann, Over the Rhine, and Solomon Burke to name a handful. He is quite possibly the greatest and most prolific overall living figure of modern blues, and every other genre he's ever touched, and has grown to be a personal hero of mine, though sadly, a largely unsung one.

He was born Joseph Lee Henry in Charlotte, North Carolina. His father worked for Chevrolet motor company, which forced Henry to move around every three or four years as he was growing up. He cites this as a major reason for being so involved in music, unable to make deep social connections through his adolescence. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English. He is professionally more known as a product of Brooklyn, where he moved in 1985 and where he started his professional career soon afterwards with his 1986 debut Talk of Heaven, which Henry himself co-produced. As he started piecing together his discography, he married Melanie Ciccone, endearingly known as Madonna's sister. He continued to produce and release records as a solo artist and collaborate with other musicians and make ties over the next decade. Gradually, towards the end of the 90s and into the twenty-first century he focused less on his own music and more on production, although his most mature and successful albums were also released in this time.

2007's Civilians is probably his most popular release, and a highly recommendable starting point for anyone interested in Henry's anti-folk, alt-country, blues fusion, lyrically penetrating, tasteful and encompassing casserole of wonderful. Also see dannye's wonderful writeups on both Shuffletown and better yet Tiny Voices, another fantastic album if a little darker and, as dannye observes, a little *too* close to Waits. I have heard wonderful things about Trampoline and Scar as well, though cannot personally attest to them (yet). It's also interesting in retrospect to review albums like Murder of Crows which show a more primitive, soul-searching Henry, but this is certainly not the music that causes you to attach yourself so unconditionally to the man. Later songs like "Our Song" from Civilians are what truly showcase his power - a sentimental, sad but not whiny, American-patriotism-and-nostalgia-with-a-question-mark story ballad about Henry eavesdropping on Willie Mays in a home improvement store, and his reflections. How can you not be hit devastatingly in a truly deep and truly human place when you hear

He hooked each spring beneath his foot
He leaned over then he stood upright
Testing each against his weight
For one that had some play and some fight
He's just like us, I wanna tell him
And our needs are small enough
Something to slow a heavy door
Something to help us raise one up

And this was my country
This was my song
Somewhere in the middle there though it started badly and it's ending wrong
Well, this was God's country
This frightful and this angry land
But if it's his will, the worst of it might still
Somehow make me a better man

Solo discography as of this WU:

Talk of Heaven, 1986, Astor Place Records
Murder of Crows, 1987, Mammoth Records
Shuffletown, 1990, Mammoth
Short Man's Room, 1992, Mammoth
Kindness of the World, 1993, Mammoth
Fireman's Wedding, 1994, Mammoth
Trampoline, 1996, Mammoth
Fuse, 1999, Mammoth
Scar, 2001, Mammoth
Tiny Voices, 2003, Anti- Records
Civilians, 2007, Anti-
Blood from Stars, 2009, Anti-
Reverie, 2011, Anti-

Anti- Records artist page
Biopic focusing on his influences, courtesy of Brigham Young University's television network.

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