First Tunesday: Joe Henry

Given that music resides in the anteroom of any space I inhabit, I introduce a new feature to Stripped: Tunesday. On Tunesdays, I will ramble a bit about a favorite musical artist or three, or a genre, or something musical that means something to me. While I lean heavily toward the folk, alt-country, and blues genres in my day-to-day, my tastes are much more eclectic than a surface glance, or listen, may reveal. Today, I am bringing Joe Henry. Say "Hi."

In 1994, on my way back to South Carolina from Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia, I was listening to a folk show on public radio. A Norman Blake tune played, and I really enjoyed the sparse sound of a folk song about the industrial revolution. Then "She Always Goes," by Joe Henry, came on. I was captured by the voice, the lyrics, the song. The next morning, I bought The Fields of November, Norman Blake's double cd release, and Joe Henry's Kindness of the World. I had a light day as far as classes (I was in law school at the time), so I skipped all of them and listened to music instead.

I am partial to artists who write their own songs, and to lyrics that are more literate than the pablum on most radio stations. Here are some Henry lyrics which for over a dozen years have taken their places among my all-time faves, right up there with the ubiquitous Dylan lyrics.

One day when the weather is warm, I'll wake up on a hill and hold the morning like it was a plow and cut myself a row, and follow it until I know better by God than I know now.

There was no taste of spring in the breath you blew away and nothing of a color left in your face and no way I could keep the faith you lost in me, and nothing I could raise up in its place...
~ from "One Day when the Weather is Warm"

Sometimes I like to say that I'm a different man today, not the one that she recalls. She never really knew me at all. Then other times I might pretend we're both the same as we were then. I see here wearing my old clothes, but in the end she always goes.

You can call it what you will, but a story's yours until the one who knows it well as you says she's got a story too....
~from "She Always Goes"

Well, sometimes at night I pretended to be sleeping, just to hear what it is that you say when you talk to yourself and the darkness is keeping the hateful morning a goodnight away.
~from "This Close to You"

Bury every hope you ever dreamed of, deep enough so that no dogs come around...
And if you catch me leaning back, I had some leaning back to do...
If I took the liberty of your voice you left ringing in my ear and I gave buckdancer's choice to myself for all to hear, well, I'd tell myself all the things that you never would and would forgive all you never could...
If only this time I was wrong, if only you were here, if I was only half as strong, if just tonight a mile was only half as long, then I could walk from here....
~from "Buckdancer's Choice"

The Kindness of the World was recorded when Henry was perched squarely in his folk/alt-country phase. He has moved on to alternative, ethereal jazz-tinged rock, and more. Fuse, released in 1999, was much more a rock, alt-rock recording, featuring Jakob Dylan and others. Fuse, in fact, has a lyric that I love: "Her fingers on your lips are like a penny for a fuse..." If you're young, maybe you aren't familiar with using a penny in the place of a fuse. Think about it.

Henry has been married for over twenty years to Madonna's sister. One of Henry's songs ("Stop") was sent to Madonna by her sister, and Madonna recorded it. You may have heard it, although she calls it "Don't Tell Me."

If you are a Joe Henry fan, let me know. If you decide to check out Joe Henry, let me know what you think. Meanwhile, listen to something good.

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