Obviously cool Joe Henry shows his warm and intimate face
Los Angeles, The Troubadour, Dec. 4, 2003
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - The title of Joe Henry's new album, "Tiny Voices," was fitting for this sit-down club show, since its sparse crowd was not nearly large enough to make too much noise. But Henry, due mainly to his literate and detailed songwriting, has always been an acquired taste. He may never evolve into a ready-for-arenas candidate. But for the faithful few, this was a warm and intimate night of noir-ish and jazzy folk-accented music.
Henry steers well clear of trying to sell his songs, like some sort of musical salesmen, so it's sometimes easy to miss the undeniable intelligence under the surface of his writing. So if you blinked, you might have missed the meat of new political gems like "Flag," which includes the line: "I loved you long before I knew/Love is something one decides to do." His cynicism was reflected again with "Dirty Magazine," where he asks, "Just tell me everything I've heard before/Like it was new."
As he accompanied himself with various acoustic and electric guitars, Henry was backed by three of the stellar musicians that also played on his latest album. These included the multi-keyboard contributions of Patrick Warren, the elastic and melodic bass work of Jennifer Condos and Jay Bellerose's accurate and soulful drumming. Henry truly needs such empathetic musicianship, since his songs create moods, as well as tell stories.
During his hour-plus set, Henry primarily drew from his newest release. Nevertheless, he did reach back for the title cut from "Scar" for one of his two encores and played "Mean Flower" (from that same release) to fulfill an audience request.
It makes sense for Henry to share a label (Anti) with Tom Waits, since both men tell stories that are thickly shrouded in shadows. But since one man's shadow is another man's shade, this small - but dedicated - gathering of fans simply basked in Henry's obvious cool.