Gratitude for Joe Henry’s “Blood from Stars”

Please put on your seatbelts and helmets: I’m reduced to blathering in the very superlatives that have been beaten senseless and slapped upon lesser albums, and I’m gonna throw them around. (Then, no doubt, I’ll come crawling back to revise this, feeling rather embarrassed at my presumptuous claims and flamboyant outbursts.)

* * *

Joe Henry’s Blood from Stars is a strong candidate for my Favorite Album of the… hmmm, yes, I’ll say it… Decade. Right up there with Bob Dylan’s Love and Theft. It’s as raw and raucous and rowdy and raggedly beautiful as Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, and as stirring in its reverence for the gospel as anything I’ve heard since Dylan’s Oh Mercy. Listening to it all the way through, I’m exhausted.

And speaking of Dylan: As a lyricist, Henry joins Tom Waits as one of the only American songwriters I know who really deserves comparison to the Master. His metaphors speak to powerfully to me that I’ve come to anticipate his work with the same kind of trembling eagerness that I feel when I earn about new albums from Sam Phillips or Over the Rhine. I don’t like to use the word “masterpiece” anymore, as I don’t think any work of art deserves such a label until we’ve had at least ten years to think it over… but Henry’s last two albums — Tiny Voices and Civilians — strike me as strong candidates for the term.

Yes, Blood from Stars lives up to that cover art, and “Death to the Storm” playing into “All Blues Hail Mary” is a knockout combination. Henry’s assembled an extraordinary band, featuring Mark Ribot (who is all over this, in top form, digging deep into the same magical toolbox that makes the best of his work with Tom Waits so memorable) and the great Jay Bellerose, whose percussion has blessed the last several Sam Phillips albums.

Bono talks about working hard with the band and waiting for those moments when God walks through the room; well, after listening to The Bright Mississippi and Blood from Stars, I think I’ve found one of God’s favorite rooms.

I’ll be saying more about this one eventually, no doubt. I’ve fallen head over heels in love, and I’m running out to buy several dozen roses.

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  • Dave

    Great post, and I couldn’t agree more about Mr. Henry’s rightful place among the giants of American music. He’s right up there with Waits, Newman, Dylan, et al…I first came across JH back in the early 90s. Check out his early discs “Shuffletown,” “Short Man’s Room” and “Kindness of the World” — great great records that flow more in a folk-country-roots vein. I was lucky enough to see him perform in Chicago a couple years ago at the Old Town School of Folk Music (after Civilians had been released) and it was without question one of the best shows I’ve seen/heard in a long time. This guy is simply the one of the best, and it’s great to see him getting more and more recognition as time goes on.

  • Jake

    Thanks Jeffrey! I checked out Joe Henry this week for the first time because you and Andy Whitman have written so passionately about his music. I found a used copy of Scar and am really loving it – I’m looking forward to picking up Tiny Voices and Civilians soon, and hope to grab Blood from Stars on the 18th. So thanks for helping to make me aware of Joe’s music – I probably would not have encountered it otherwise, and I’m really glad I did.


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