Skip to main content
Select Source:

Henry, Joe

Joe Henry

Singer, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Joe Henry is a widely respected musical artist whose moody vignettes about lifes dark, sorrowful, and uncertain moments have remained powerful over the course of more than a half dozen albums. Hes about as far from big-picture, collective-experience guys like Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and Bruce Cockburn as you can get, mused Thom Jurek in the Metro Times, who went on to note that Henry does not fit in with the rock worlds canon of wordsmiths or confessionalists, either: Henrys more like a filmmaker using jump cuts and disruptive devices to communicate a musical message that even he doesnt understand fully. Henry concurred, waving off those who would term his tales autobiographical. I dont really write about myself, and think that its conceited for songwriters to think that any small revelation they have is worth everybody else hearing about, he told Jurek. Im trying for things I cant even understand fully. I just want to set these things in front of people and let them make up their own minds about whats there.

Henry was born in 1960 in Charlotte, North Carolina, but his fathers work with Chevrolet soon took the family to Michigan. He grew up in the Detroit area where he met Melanie Ciccone, whom he eventually married in 1987. By the mid-1980s Melanies sister Madonna was entrenched as one of American musics most well-known stars; Henry, meanwhile, was just beginning his career. In 1985 he and Melanie moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he played at small clubs and began shaping the songs that appeared on his debut album, 1986s Talk of Heaven.

Impressed with his first album, A&M Records subsequently signed Henry to their label. Over the next few years he released two albums for A&M, 1989s Murder of Crows and 1990s Shuffletown, that cemented his reputation as a literate songwriter with a penchant for keeping the odd loose end or unexplained detail in his songs. Shunning the tidy endings and shopworn themes that mark the work of so many other artists, Henry instead opted for a style that was notable as much for what was missing as for what was included. As Jurek later observed, he asks more questions than he answers, and tells stories that dont add up to a punchline. Hes a rhythmic singer who looks for spaces in between the words.

The release of Shuffletown also established Henry as a member of the swelling country-tinged roots-rock movement, in part because of his studio recording styleemploying largely acoustic accompanimenthe recorded the songs live onto two-track master tapes. The result on Shuffletown, said Rolling Stone critic Bud Scoppa, was a testament to the effectiveness of unvarnished recording in accurately capturing mood and vitality, as well as sheer, seductive sound.

In 1990 Henry and his wife moved to Los Angeles, where Melanie took a job with Opal Records. In the meantime, Henrys relationship with A&M deteriorated to the point where he would later term his stay on the label as disastrous. In 1992 Henry left A&M to join the independent label Mammoth, located in North Carolina. His first effort on Mammoth was Short Mans Room, another album that received a fair amount of critical praise but only modest sales. A year later Henry released Kindness of the World, on which country-rock band the Jayhawks provided much of the instrumental backing. Guitar Player reviewer James Rotondi called the album downright heartbreaking, while Deborah Frost observed in Entertainment Weekly that Henrys plain-sung, pedal-steel-pierced vignettes (in which firemen marry beneath paper bells and hope always squeaks past irony) plumb Americas psyche with a classicists, not a provocateurs, perspective.

In the mid-1990s, Henry made some fundamental changes in his approach to his music. I was getting a bit bored finding myself in this country-rock thing, he told Rolling Stones Matt Hendrickson. I really wanted to do something decidedly more electric because I didnt want to just make the same record again with different songs. Abandoning the live recording process that he had often used in his earlier albums, Henry enlisted the aid of producer Patrick McCarthy, who was well known for his mixing and programming capabilities, in making his next album, 1996s Trampoline. Seventy-five percent of the record was the two of us in this little studio near my house, with the guitars set up in a circle, Henry explained to Hendrickson. We just started putting pieces [of music] together. It was like gluing Ernest Borgnines head on Jayne Mansfields

For the Record

Born in 1960 in Charlotte, NC; grew up in the Detroit, MI, area; married Melanie Ciccone (sister of recording artist Madonna), 1987. Education : Graduated from the University of Michigan.

Moved to Brooklyn, NY, 1985; released first album, Talk of Heaven, 1986; switched to A&M Records for next two albums, Murder of Crows, 1989, and Shuffletown, 1990; relocated to Los Angeles, CA, switched to Mammoth Records label, 1990; collaborated with sister-inlaw Madonna on song Guilty by Association for Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, The Songs of Vic Chesnutt, 1996; released Fuse, 1999, and Scar, 2001.

Addresses: Record company Mammoth Records, 101 B Street, Carrboro, NC 27510, website: http://www.mammoth.com.

body. It was a completely eye-opening experience for me, and now I cant imagine doing it any other way.

The resulting albumwhich also featured Helmet guitarist Page Hamilton on five songsgarnered Henry new levels of critical acclaim as well as his most significant radio airplay with the title track. Blessed with such stand-out tracks as Ohio Air Show Plane Crash, Flower Girl, and Parade, the album seemed to mark a turning point for the artist. Entertainment Weekly reviewer Steven Mirkin called Trampoline a searingly honest and compelling album that comes at you in oblique, disjointed snatches; woozy and haunted, with slow-motion replays and muffled violence. Rolling Stone critic Roni Sarig agreed, writing that the stylistic shifts make Trampoline Henrys most diverse and adventurous work. But if Henry is widening his horizons, he is also focusing his vision. No longer the folk poet spinning archetypal psalms, Henry pares lyrics down to their rawest bits and draws vivid scenes. For his part, Henry admitted to Jurek that Im really proud of the way [the album] turned out.

Henry also collaborated with his famous sister-in-law for the first time in 1996. Asked to contribute a song to a benefit album for singer Vic Chesnutt, Henry enlisted the aid of Madonna on a cover of Chesnutts Guilty by Association. Ive been answering questions about her for so long, but I find it kind of a relief now, because now theres a reason to talk about her, he told Hendrickson, before wryly adding that Im sure shes tired of answering questions about me, too.

In another stylistic departure, Henry released the experimental Fuse in 1999, an album on which the new groove-a-delic Henry knows how to work the sound as he mixes and matches old and new, according to Denise Sullivan of All Music Guide. Scar, Henrys eighth album, followed in 2001. A highly textured sonic meditation on love and its twisted redemptive power, according to Thorn Jurek of All Music Guide, the album features a tango called Stop, a song reworked for use as Dont Tell Me, a top-five hit on Madonnas multi-platinum smash Music in 2000. About her brother-inlaw, Madonna said in a statement, as published in the New York Times, Joe is a real undiscovered poet. Some of his songs rip my heart out. He is a guy from another time. A lyrical giant. Other notable tracks from Scar include Edgar Bergen and Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation, on which famed jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman guests.

Selected discography

Talk of Heaven, Profile, 1986; reissued, Astor Place, 1999.

Murder of Crows, A&M, 1989.

Shuffletown, A&M, 1990.

Short Mans Room, Mammoth, 1992.

Kindness of the World, Mammoth, 1993.

Trampoline, Mammoth, 1996.

(With Madonna) Guilty by Association, Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, The Songs of Vic Chestnutt, Chaos, 1996.

Fuse, Mammoth, 1999.

Scar, Mammoth, 2001.

Sources

Periodicals

Acoustic Guitar, July-August 1994.

Entertainment Weekly, November 19, 1993; March 29, 1996.

Gentlemans Quarterly, May 2001.

Guitar Player, March 1994; July 1996.

Metro Times (Detroit), May 1-7, 1996.

New York Times, May 4, 1996; May 20, 2001.

People, May 6, 1996.

Rolling Stone, March 9, 1989; November 29, 1990; August 20, 1992; April 18, 1996; June 27, 1996.

Spin, February 1994.

Online

Joe Henry, All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (May 20, 2002).

Kevin Hillstrom

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Henry, Joe." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Henry, Joe." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/henry-joe

"Henry, Joe." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/henry-joe

Henry, Joe

Joe Henry

Singer, songwriter

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

Singer-songwriter Joe Henry is a widely respected musical artist whose moody vignettes about lifes dark, sorrowful, and uncertain moments have remained powerful over the course of half a dozen albums. Hes about as far from big-picture, collective-experience guys like Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and Bruce Cockburn as you can get, mused Thom Jurek in the Metro Times, who went on to note that Henry does not fit in with the rock worlds canon of wordsmiths or confessionalists, either: Henrys more like a filmmaker using jump cuts and disruptive devices to communicate a musical message that even he doesnt understand fully. Henry concurred, waving off those who would term his tales autobiographical. I dont really write about myself, and think that its conceited for songwriters to think that any small revelation they have is worth everybody else hearing about, he told Jurek. Im trying for things I cant even understand fully. I just want to set these things in front of people and let them make up their own minds about whats there.

Henry was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, but his fathers work with Chevrolet soon took the family to Michigan. He grew up in the Detroit area where he met Melanie Ciccone, whom he eventually married. By the mid-1980s Melanies sister Madonna was entrenched as one of American musics most well-known stars; Henry, meanwhile, was just beginning his career. In 1985 he and Melanie moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he played at small clubs and began shaping the songs that appeared on his debut album, 1986s Talk of Heaven.

Impressed with his first album, A&M Records subsequently signed Henry to their label. Over the next few years he released two albums for A&M, 1989s Murder of Crows and 1990s Shuffletown, that cemented his reputation as a literate songwriter with a penchant for keeping the odd loose end or unexplained detail in his songs. Shunning the tidy endings and shopworn themes that mark the work of so many other artists, Henry instead opted for a style that was notable as much for what was missing as for what was included. As Jurek later observed, he asks more questions than he answers, and tells stories that dont add up to a punchline. Hes a rhythmic singer who looks for spaces in between the words.

The release of Shuffletown also established Henry as a member of the swelling country-tinged roots-rock movement, in part because of his studio recording styleemploying largely acoustic accompaniment, he recorded the songs live onto two-track master tapes. The result on Shuffletown, said Rolling Stone critic Bud Scoppa, was a testament to the effectiveness of unvarnished recording in accurately capturing mood and vitality, as well as sheer, seductive sound

In 1990 Henry and his wife moved to Los Angeles, where Melanie took a job with Opal Records (she now manages artist/producer Daniel Lanois). In the meantime, Henrys relationship with A&M deteriorated to the point where he would later term his stay on the label as disastrous. In 1992 Henry left A&M to join the independent label Mammoth, located in North Carolina. His first effort on Mammoth was Short Mans Room, another album that received a fair amount of critical praise but only modest sales. A year later Henry released Kindness of the World, on which country-rock band the Jayhawks provided much of the instrumental backing. Guitar Player reviewer James Rotondi called the album downright heartbreaking, while Deborah Frost observed in Entertainment Weekly that Henrys plain-sung, pedal-steel-pierced vignettes (in which firemen marry beneath paper bells and hope always squeaks past irony) plumb Americas psyche with a classicists, not a provocateurs, perspective.

In the mid-1990s, Henry made some fundamental changes in his approach to his music. I was getting a bit bored finding myself in this country-rock thing, he told Rolling Stones Matt Hendrickson. I really wanted to do something decidedly more electric because I didnt want to just make the same record again with different songs. Abandoning the live recording process that he had often used in his earlier albums, Henry enlisted the aid of producer Patrick McCarthy, who was well known for his mixing and programming capabilities, in making his next album, 1996s Trampoline.

For the Record

Born in Charlotte, NC; grew up in Detroit, MI, area; graduated from the University of Michigan; married Melanie Ciccone (sister of recording artist Madonna); children: Levon.

Moved to Brooklyn, NY, 1985; released first album, Talk of Heaven, 1986; switched to A&M Records for next two albums, Murder of Crows (1989) and Shuffletown (1990); relocated to Los Angeles, CA, 1990, and switched to Mammoth Records label; collaborated with sister-in-law Madonna on song Guilty by Association for Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, The Songs of Vic Chesnutt, 1996.

Addresses: Agent Simon B. Tortured Management, 520 Broadway, 8th Floor, New York, NY 10012. Record company Mammoth Records, 101 B Street, Carrboro, NC 27510.

Seventy-five percent of the record was the two of us in this little studio near my house, with the guitars set up in a circle, Henry explained to Hendrickson. We just started putting pieces [of music] together. It was like gluing Ernest Borgnines head on Jayne Mansfields body. It was a completely eye-opening experience for me, and now I cant imagine doing it any other way.

The resulting albumwhich also featured Helmet guitarist Page Hamilton on five songsgarnered Henry new levels of critical acclaim as well as his most significant radio airplay with the title track. Blessed with such stand-out tracks as Ohio Air Show Plane Crash, Flower Girl, and Parade, the album seemed to mark a turning point for the artist. Entertainment Weekly reviewer Steven Mirkin called Trampoline a searingly honest and compelling album that comes at you in oblique, disjointed snatches; woozy and haunted, with slow-motion replays and muffled violence. Rolling Stone critic Roni Sarig agreed, writing that the stylistic shifts make Trampoline Henrys most diverse and adventurous work. But if Henry is widening his horizons, he is also focusing his vision. No longer the folk poet spinning archetypal psalms, Henry pares lyrics down to their rawest bits and draws vivid scenes. For his part, Henry admitted to Jurekthat Im really proud of the way [the album] turned out.

Henry also collaborated with his famous sister-in-law for the first time in 1996. Asked to contribute a song to a benefit album for singer Vic Chesnutt, Henry enlisted the aid of Madonna on a cover of Chesnutts Guilty by Association. Ive been answering questions about her for so long, but I find it kind of a relief now, because now theres a reason to talk about her, he told Hendrickson, before wryly adding that Im sure shes tired of answering questions about me, too.

Selected discography

Talk of Heaven, 1986.

Murder of Crows, A&M, 1989.

Shuffletown, A&M, 1990.

Short Mans Room, Mammoth, 1992.

Kindness of the World, Mammoth, 1993.

Trampoline, Mammoth, 1996.

(With Madonna), Guilty by Association, Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation, The Songs of Vic Chestnutt, Chaos, 1996.

Sources

Acoustic Guitar, July-August 1994.

Entertainment Weekly, November 19, 1993; March 29, 1996.

Guitar Player, March 1994; July 1996.

Metro Times (Detroit), May 1-7, 1996.

New York Times, May 4, 1996.

People, May 6, 1996.

Rolling Stone, March 9, 1989; November 29, 1990; August 20, 1992; April 18, 1996; June 27, 1996.

Spin, February 1994.

Kevin Hillstrom

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Henry, Joe." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Henry, Joe." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/henry-joe-0

"Henry, Joe." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved August 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/henry-joe-0