By Amy Longsdorf
As a songwriter, Joe Henry is a mighty fine producer. When “Blood from Stars” comes to its conclusion, you can barely remember individual songs because they all seem to run together. What lingers is the CD’s atmosphere – dank, jazzy, vaguely sinister. Not unlike Bob Dylan’s “Love and Theft” or Tom Waits’ recent run of CDs, the album could have been recorded on Fats Waller’s back-porch on a dark and stormy night. Marc Ribot’s guitar thunderbolts occasionally brighten up the inky darkness but Henry’s songs will put you in mind of Depression-era blues and minstrel shuffles.
Not surprisingly, the best numbers are the ones that don’t try and get by on mood alone. “The Man I Keep Hid” is a painful reminder that every one has a secret self; “This Is My Favorite Cage” likens romance to “the loveliest tumble from grace;” and “Bellwether” is the sound of a man determined to persevere even if redemption is “a long ways off from here.”
Henry, who as a producer helped revitalize the careers of Allen Toussaint, Bettye LaVette and Solomon Burke, is a glass-half-empty kind of guy. Unlike Dylan and Waits, he has no time for whimsy. A feeling of despair streaks nearly every single track. There’s great beauty in “Blood From Stars” but it could have used a bit more twinkle.
[Amy Longsdorf’s entertainment coverage has appeared in Blender, People, the Chicago Tribune, the Toronto Star and Newsday. She doesn’t want to imagine a world without Preston Sturges movies, Stax singles and the music of Bob Marley.]