12 Songs, 57 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

Joe Henry’s tenth solo album Civilians continues the man’s nourishing appreciation for life. It’s a lonely night for the soul but one fused with wit and humor as the smallest details add up to a grander overview. With nightclub jazz in his voice and a ramshackle jackhammer rhythm, “Our Song” channels a dark vision for the future with things “ending wrong” despite running into Willie Mays in an Arizona Home Depot. Throughout the album, the musical touches are subtle but assured. Guitarist Bill Frisell adds his usual eerie, swooning guitar lines, while Henry scores strings with Van Dyke Parks and hammers at pianos with an intensity that underscores the existential torpor guiding these songs. “Scare Me to Death” has a cup filled with the “worst kind of hope.” “Civil War” is the sound of a man discovering the shadows that accompany the light. “I Will Write My Book” tries to find a constructive outlet for the inner rage. Henry, however, is the consummate professional and while he threatens to come unhinged, he manages to stay composed long enough to sound like a relatively rational man.

EDITORS’ NOTES

Joe Henry’s tenth solo album Civilians continues the man’s nourishing appreciation for life. It’s a lonely night for the soul but one fused with wit and humor as the smallest details add up to a grander overview. With nightclub jazz in his voice and a ramshackle jackhammer rhythm, “Our Song” channels a dark vision for the future with things “ending wrong” despite running into Willie Mays in an Arizona Home Depot. Throughout the album, the musical touches are subtle but assured. Guitarist Bill Frisell adds his usual eerie, swooning guitar lines, while Henry scores strings with Van Dyke Parks and hammers at pianos with an intensity that underscores the existential torpor guiding these songs. “Scare Me to Death” has a cup filled with the “worst kind of hope.” “Civil War” is the sound of a man discovering the shadows that accompany the light. “I Will Write My Book” tries to find a constructive outlet for the inner rage. Henry, however, is the consummate professional and while he threatens to come unhinged, he manages to stay composed long enough to sound like a relatively rational man.

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Ratings and Reviews

4.8 out of 5
18 Ratings
18 Ratings
dchouder ,

Astonishingly Good

More often than not, the most brilliant work is overlooked by the mainstream. This album is so thoroughly good it is hard to believe. The more you listen to it, the more its depth, intelligence and emotional intensity are revealed. It is perhaps the most articulate group of songs released by any songwriter in the last 10 years. This record is a treasure - made all the more precious by the fact that it is largely hidden from the mainstream view. A masterpiece.

your grandfather ,

Still fresh after nearly 100 listens!

I discovered this album last year, through research into the album's remarkable drummer, Jay Bellerose (He really is everywhere these days). I had never heard of this Joe Henry character (turns out he's everywhere, too!). The journey this album has set me on over the course of the last year has been one of continuing development with each listen.
Masterful lyricism, at times gruff, poignant, and beautiful, complemented by perfectly constructed music, make for an album that really tugs at the listener's full self every time it's played. The other players' parts are saturated with just as much emotion as Henry's lyrics. These guys are really IN DEEP for this album, making every note, every tone, every single sound count. It's as if every player has perfectly sculpted their portion of a much larger visionary work.
The end result is, in my mind, a true masterpiece. To me, this really is one of those "perfect" albums, without so much as a half second of a lull. I know those types of labels are subjective to any one listener's individual tastes, and maybe this one is no different. But to me, it just is. So worth the purchase, as it's gotten so much mileage these last 12 months, and no sign of wearing out any time soon. Thank you, Joe Henry.

resonator_ ,

More gems from Mr. Henry

Joe Henry is a wonderful musician and lyricist, but he doesn't always put all wit and texture to use in memorable songs, so I've found his previous albums to be somewhat uneven. When he's on target, though, his songs lodge in your head and stay there ("Dirty Magazine", off Tiny Voices; "Richard Pryor . . ." off Scar). This album has a rich, warm, organic sound, and more hits than misses. "Civilians", "Parker's Mood", and especially "Time Is a Lion", "Our Song", and "God Only Knows" are powerful, moving, and --for Joe Henry-- hummable, and will be added to my list of Joe Henry classics.

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