03-12-19 | Songs for Listening | Joe Henry
Producer, poet, singer, and songwriter, Joe Henry, picked tunes for Tuesday, March 12 at Songs for Listening. In a career spanning more than 25 years, Joe has left an indelible and unique imprint on American popular music. A hyper-literate storyteller, by turns dark, devastating, and hopeful, he draws an author’s eye for the overlooked detail across a broad swath of American musical styles. Henry has collaborated with many notable American artists on his own body of work, from T Bone Burnett, Daniel Lanois, and Van Dyke Parks on one side of the spectrum, to Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, and Bill Frisell on the other. A three-time-GRAMMY-winning producer, Henry has made records for Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Elvis Costello, and Solomon Burke among many others. In 2013, Algonquin Press published, Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World that Made Him, a book co-written by Joe and his brother Dave Henry. In late 2017, Henry released his 14th solo album Thrum.
Here's Joe's list with his annotations:
'Blood Count' by Billy Strayhorn performed by the Duke Ellington Orchestra from And His Mother Called Him Bill ...
Written by the great Billy Strayhorn (Ellington’s longtime and most significant collaborator) as he was dying of cancer, the song itself is a deep meditation on the approaching inevitable; its melodic phrasing like halting, weary, confessional prayer.
The version I turn to — dare I say it is the only version to which one might choose to turn — comes from Ellington’s album recorded in tribute shortly after Strayhorn passed, entitled, And His Mother Called Him Bill ... wherein Duke’s star alto saxophonist (and close friend to Strays) Johnny Hodges delivers the melody, and then speaks from it in solo, with all the bitterness and anger you might expect from someone as distraught with grief as Hodges is reported to have been at the session. Never before had Johnny flared with this kind of raw hurt; never again would his love and devotion be articulated with such blood in its veins.
'Spiritual' by John Coltrane from Live At The Village Vanguard
This has long been my favorite song & most revisited recording by John. There is both urgency and sublimity on display, as there would have had to be in a song of such title, recorded in the turbulent year of 1961. I hear it as a call to both prayer and action — from a supplicant who is beyond surrender.
'Just Like A Woman' performed by Roberta Flack from Chapter Two
I am not wholly sure why I keep circling back to Roberta’s version of this song as of late; except that it reveals the deep beauty and soulful sorrow of the lyric, yet free of the arch knowing with which the author himself had infused his delivery. It breaks my heart, to tell you the truth. & who doesn’t want their heart broken?
'Ramblin’ by Ornette Coleman from Change of the Century
I come here for the pure and raucous joy, the unselfconscious swing on display. This is nothing if not life affirming. And you should play it for anyone who thinks Ornette’s music to be unapproachable.
'Nothing Without You' by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from Mustt Mustt
Put this on repeat play & then go about your living. It will offer you what the first spring day following a hard winter does.
'Blood Count' by Billy Strayhorn performed by the Duke Ellington Orchestra from ‘And 'His Mother Called Him Bill ... ‘
'Spiritual' by John Coltrane from ‘Live At The Village Vanguard’
'Just Like A Woman' performed by Roberta Flack from ‘Chapter Two’
'Ramblin’ by Ornette Coleman from ‘Change of the Century’
’Nothing Without You’ by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan from ‘Mustt Mustt’