Monday, August 24, 2009

Joe Henry gives his own tone to the blues

CAREER TWISTS: Henry, whose "Blood From Stars" was released last week, also has become a noted producer. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

from the article,

These days, the easygoing musician is venturing back to some of the most harrowing music in the American canon: The tormented country blues of Son House, Robert Johnson and Skip James. "To me, it's like reading Keats or Blake," he said during a recent interview in his basement studio. "It's about engaging in the idea of mortality. It takes God, sex, love and death and puts them all in the same room -- and grapples. It's not all answered, but it's all engaged."

The album inspired by this journey, "Blood From Stars," released Tuesday, uses the line-repetition typical of the blues tradition: "Nobody knows . . . the man that I keep hid," the first lyric begins. "Nobody knows . . . the man that I keep hid."

But "Blood" sounds less like a scratchy old Delta blues record than a collection of musical short stories, or the soundtrack to an invisible film. In its impressionistic liner notes, Henry calls the songs scenes for a play.

"I was very consciously thinking about blues song form, not musical tonality," Henry said. "There's no sense in trying to re-create a blues record, but I find the [blues] song form to be incredibly powerful. It's like why people go back to the sonnet or the haiku. That form has power, and the structure gives you a bit of direction."


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