Joe Henry is the perfect storm of singer/songwriter/producer. Right out of the box, the singular sound of his production is always striking. Not unlike Lanois’ Wall Of Murk, Henry’s work invariably consists of stark layers of gentle noise, undulating blocks of sound, instruments alternately lurching into and jutting out of the arrangements, and elusive lyrical abstractions representing the darkest reaches of the emotional spectrum. These multiple layers of organic sound are sparse and simple, quietly going about their business holding up Henry’s soulful songs of Reverie.
A piano reverberates majestically as if languishing in a massive cathedral. Upright bass lumbers like lava across the landscape of the music, partnered with a grim snare drum grunt that lopes heavily onward. Like grandpa’s unintelligible tall tales finally given the full Steinbeck treatment, acoustic guitars calmly resonate like echoes from dark and dire corners of a secret, unwritten history. The instruments mingle amicably but occasionally collide with abandon like conflicting emotions forced to co-habitate in harsh conditions. In a section of “Sticks And Stones” the drums kick and struggle against the natural pulse of the tune, implying Henry’s internal struggles with discomfiting feelings and unanswered questions that burn and scar. This is a very chill record, perfect for late night listening or during a thunderstorm. And while the overarching mood is one of pensive introspection and ennui, Henry maintains a peripheral glance heavenward throughout. As his intense longing for understanding slow dances with a grim conviction that resolution ain’t likely forthcoming, he tacitly implies with a warm squeeze of your hand that there is still hope, but not much. Like Peggy Lee once sang, “If that’s all there is, my friend, then let’s keep dancing.”