"In cooking, as in all the arts, simplicity is a sign of perfection." - Curnonsky

Monday, February 4, 2008

Concert Review: Joe Henry & His Trio

Joe Henry may not be a household name in contemporary American music but he made a small theater full of converts, especially me and my friend Jean at the Sunday night Artist Forum at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Actually, the small crowd wasn't all converts. A certain number of patrons obviously were familiar with the young man's music, applauding songs in recognition after the opening bars. But it is fair to say that the 100-minute concert introduced Henry and his music to a significant percentage of the audience.

Henry is a singer-songwriter-bandleader-guitarist. He's young, good looking, and has an ingratiating stage presence. He discusses his music with his listeners, which is his prerogative, which is helpful to the first-timers to hear what he had in mind in composing his music. Some conversation were appropriate because most of his program consisted of new songs.

Henry is a composer with an offbeat sensibility. His lyrics are full of weird images and rhymes. Most of his numbers were quirky love songs, delivered to an unnamed subject, presumably female.

There is an apparent lack of emotion in Henry's music and not much humor. But cumulatively his songs do exert a fascination, marred only by the occasional blurring of a key word in a line through slurred pronunciation.

Henry doesn't have a great singing voice, but it is perfectly suited to his songs. Vocally, he operates in the middle register. His tempos are almost always leisurely and only a couple of numbers built to any real intensity. Henry is laid back in his stage presence and in his music, but that's clearly by intent.

Henry led a superior backup band consisting of an amazing drummer and a wonderful standup bass plyer. The band is onstage strictly for support and there were no solos. But the musicianship was high, even though the sameness of the tempos sometimes resulted in a sameness in the music.

Henry's resume is impressive. He's produced records as well as recording numerous CDs. He is also Madonna's brother-in-law. He has made music with John Denver, Roberta Flack, Bobby Darin, and Frank Sinatra, among others. But Henry is probably at his best interpreting his own music, especially in an intimate setting like KVCC before an appreciative and attentive audience.

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