in performance: joe henry

joe henry. photo by lauren dukoff.

joe henry. photo by lauren dukoff.

Confessing that he normally doesn’t perform in an unaccompanied setting, producer/song stylist Joe Henry vowed last night at the 930 Art Center in Louisville to play assorted songs of love, sex and death  “almost all in minor key.” But even with only two well worn Gibson acoustic guitars, an upright piano and nine strategically placed lamps as onstage allies, the evocative nature of Henry’s music was in no way shortchanged.

Sure, half the beauty of his recordings are the sonic fortresses – the ambient arrangements, the trip-hop grooves – that surround the atmospheric nature of the songs. But the combination of the pin-drop-quiet the 930 audience afforded the concert and the intimate clarity that resulted brought two often overlooked attributes of Henry’s music to the surface.

The first, of course, were the lyrics. Sometimes disparaging, often mysterious and, in more than a few instances, strangely sunny – they were all pushed to the forefront instead of serving as another element of the ambience. In this instance, no song sounded more involving or human than the title tune to what remains Henry’s finest album, 2001’s Scar. Served as a show-closing encore, the confessional grace in this hesitant but hopeful love song simply glowed with only a lone acoustic guitar melody as a backdrop.

The performance’s other great rediscovery was Henry’s singing. Instead of the purposely corrosive vocals that surface on his recordings, a crisp, patiently paced folk/pop voice liberated self-described “opaque” songs like Channel (one of five tunes pulled from the new Blood From Stars album). “Every fuzzy word I send returns a finer blade,” Henry sang before quoting the title to one of Van Morrison’s most mercurial songs You Don’t Pull No Punches But You Don’t Push the River.

Insightful as the performance was, it didn’t diffuse the wonder of Henry’s finest works, from the revolution-from-a-child’s-eye slant of This Afternoon to the romantic inscrutability of Progress of Love. Nor did it make apologies for past successes that slipped away. Henry summed up the differences between his Scar song Stop and the version that sister-in-law Madonna took to the Top 5 (as the re-titled Don’t Tell Me) with little regret.

“I recorded my version as a tango. She recorded her version as a hit.” With that, Henry let loose with the tango version in all its solo, unplugged glory.


The Record (Bergen County, NJ) February 12, 1995

The Record (Bergen County, NJ) 02-12-1995 VIEWS OF RESPONSIBLE PRO-CHOICERS ARE IGNORED Date: 02-12-1995, Sunday Section: REVIEW & OUTLOOK Edition: All Editions — Sunday Column: LETTERS

Editor, The Record:

It was with great interest that I read the extended series of articles on abortion in The Record Jan. 22. I have long considered your paper to be hopelessly biased on this issue, and your series strongly reinforced my conviction. How is it possible that, of four long articles, not one highlighted the views of mainstream pro-life doctors, religious leaders, or activists?

Your lead story on Page 1 includes interviews with no fewer than six doctors. You managed to include only one who could be considered pro-life, and you buried him near the end of the article, in the position always reserved for the so-called opposition view. Of course, this conveys the false impression that the vast majority of Americans are pro-choice. see here articles on abortion

When you included an article on religious attitudes toward abortion, you decided to focus exclusively on a fringe group of pro-choice religious leaders that in no way represents the views of the vast majority of religious organizations or their leaders. Once again, you buried the pro-life “response” — your pitiful idea of balance — in a short comment near the end of the article. go to website articles on abortion

So we have two obviously pro-choice articles. What do we have to represent the “other side” of the issue? An article on a fanatic who supports violence against abortion providers — a view shared by only a tiny number of Americans. An interview calculated to excite negative feelings among typical, moderate Americans, not a long discussion with a leader in the legitimate pro-life movement. This man’s sole claim to fame is that he has gone public with his support of violence. He holds no pro-life office and is not the pastor of a religious congregation.

Presumably, you ran these articles in commemoration of the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Yet nowhere in or near the series was there any mention of the pro-life march on Washington — an annual affair also in commemoration of Roe vs. Wade — that was to take place the next day.


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