JOE HENRY

Civilians (Anti-) It's not Joe Henry's fault that grown-up songwriting and elegant production immediately evoke the interior of a Starbucks. Henry's conversational singing style, unhurried tempos and jazzy accents wouldn't upset customers quietly enjoying a skim latte. His songwriting is consistently sturdy and richly textured, with lyrics and a vocal delivery that make you ache along with him even before you discover what he's singing about. It's also not Joe Henry's fault that he has now become a genre unto himself. The previous few Joe Henry records sounded startlingly new, pulling guests and grooves from a wide array of musical styles. While he still reveals his musical breadth on his new album, Civilians, it ends up sounding like just the latest high-quality Joe Henry record (his tenth), only a little more stripped-down than previous efforts. There is continuity in some of Henry's lyrical themes as well. The centerpiece of Civilians is "Our Song," in which the narrator runs into Willie Mays and his wife at a Scottsdale, Arizona, Home Depot. This cut explores some of the same territory as the breathtaking "Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation" (featuring free-jazz legend Ornette Coleman) from Henry's 2002 record Scar. A hissing espresso machine and the drone of "venti chai vanilla macchiato" might obscure the subtleties of Henry's lyrics and musical choices -- I suggest savoring them at home with headphones and some caffeine from your local café.

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