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25 customer reviews

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Audio CD, September 11, 2007
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Product Description

Since the release of 2003's acclaimed "Tiny Voices", singer/songwriter Henry has appeared mainly as a producer, working on career defining releases by Aimee Mann, Ani DiFranco, Elvis Costello, Solomon Burke, and most recently as producer and co-writer of "Strange Weirdos" (with Loudon Wainwright), the soundtrack to the film "Knocked Up". Working with this generation's finest songwriters inspired Joe to his strongest set of songs on "Civilians"; songs of a new warmth and directness and a bold sense of melody that rides atop the cutting edge arrangements he's become known for. Features legendary pianist/songwriter Van Dyke Parks (everyone from the Beach Boys to U2) and jazz guitar pioneer Bill Frisell (Elvis Costello, Norah Jones).

Though Joe Henry has recently been busier as a producer (for the Grammy-winning Solomon Burke, a well-received collaboration between Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, and Henry's own collaboration with Loudon Wainwright III), his first recording of his own material in four years reminds that he has few peers among contemporary singer-songwriters. On previous releases, his adventurousness has pulled his music in all sorts of different directions, but focus and cohesion characterize this song cycle--one that suggests that all politics aren't merely local, but deeply personal. From the centerpiece of "Our Song," where Willie Mays laments what the country has become and remembers what it was, Henry crafts a literate, typically inspired song cycle. Stately waltzes, chamber atmospherics, and jazz instrumentation contribute to the cinematic scope of the music, with guitarists Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz and keyboardists Van Dyke Parks and Patrick Warren providing support that leaves the songs plenty of room to breathe. On "You Can't Fail Me Now" and "God Only Knows," it's hard to distinguish poetry from prayer. --Don McLeese
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Product Details

  • Audio CD (September 11, 2007)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Anti
  • ASIN: B000UE64SS
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,006 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By withparking123 on September 20, 2007
Format: Audio CD
This album is amazing. I continue to be mystified as to why every Dylan fan is not also a Joe Henry fan, although Joe is probably more frequently compared to Tom Waits, if only because they both write short stories in their lyrics. Civilians has stellar lyrics, like all Joe Henry albums (I also recommend his trio of perfection: Tiny Voices, Fuse, and Scar).

There are some really well-written, 4 star reviews of this album out in the blogosphere now, so go do a google search on some of those, because they do this album more justice than I ever could.

But, how to describe this album? Someone said "folk-noir" and I think that about sums up Joe's sound as best anyone could. Civilians is quieter than Tiny Voices -- less of a jazz sound if you will, more stripped down. The production is gorgeous -- there are some quiet spaces on these songs where everything just breathes, and I *love* the instrumentation on it -- pump organ, amazing piano, and some gorgeous strings on the epic "Our Song," which is the centerpiece of the album. This album will definitely grow on you.

Now Joe just needs to tour more!

As an added bonus, like all his other albums since Fuse, the art direction/layout (with photos by John Cohen) is more deserving of a gallery show than to be simply on a cd rack.

Some lines from "Wave," my favorite track:

"And all the while I kept your name beside me
I wrote it, but refused it on my tongue,
Believing you a song still there inside me
I feared your loss if ever it were sung"
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Tiernan Henry on September 11, 2007
Format: Audio CD
You know the way that the album that introduced you to an artist retains a special place? The first Dylan album I bought on its release was "Street Legal" and nearly 30 years on it remains one of my favourites. Similarly, my Joe Henry introduction was through a Minneapolis/St.Paul newspaper profile in 1992 that sent me off to my then local store in Madison, WI to get "Short Man's Room"; that record (get it now if you don't have it) is still a gem.

Joe Henry had released three albums before then and has released a half dozen or more since. He doesn't seem to rush these things, and they sound relaxed and easy, and they are constantly worth revisiting. "Civilians" has just eased itself into a seat at the top table; a warm, inviting, funny collection of gloriously played songs (played by a band sounding like a band having, as Grandpa Bob would have it, a whomping good time).

Henry has a knack of writing a lyric and melody that snags in your head that keeps you company on a window-down late evening drive or dancing with your partner as the wedding party winds down and the autumn bonfires are glowing orange on Mayo beaches. That's fine and dandy, but does this stuff swing and sway? Oh yeah. This is a cracker of an album, something that should be played loud, played quiet but played, again and again.

Album of the year? Quite possibly, and not just of this year.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By L.Grasslands on September 12, 2007
Format: Audio CD
Joe Henry's Civilians is a stirring, sincere and thoughtful work of simple brilliance. Henry has said he did not intend to make a political record yet did, but it's politics is timeless, rooted in civilian struggle of the simple meandering hardships and graces of life, regardless of whatever "current administration" of whatever year. The record could have been recorded 50, 30, 20 years ago and the same political references would have been relevant.

Beyond the politics, the music and lyrics are rich and vivid, the songs are never let go, held tight yet given enough room to breathe. Civilians could be described as a mix between "Kindness of the World" and "Tiny Voices". And although many will think it hyperbole, Civilians is not just the front running candidate from album of the year, Henry has delivered what could easily be a contender for album of the decade.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Scott R. Chamberlin on August 12, 2008
Format: Audio CD
I'll throw two more cents in among all the beautiful words people have written on the subject of Civilians. In my view, Tiny Voices might have made a pinnacle of a great career, but somehow Joe Henry keeps getting better, stronger, just keeps growing, as a storyteller, as a lyricist, an instrumentalist. By god, I think he is even breaking new ground in the art of production: who can make something so beautiful and complex sound so natural? This guy is an artist, seriously, of the entire process, from pen-to-paper to CD.

There are a lot of comparisons to Tom Waits, but I don't see such an active similarity. Sure, they both spin a mean yarn, and they are both moving forward as artists. But Waits occupies a unique place in music and art, and Henry is moving his own direction, distilling a whole genre to meet his great strength -- the songwriting -- the sensitivity, uniqueness, humor, sadness, all sparely mixed up like a concentrate of life itself:

I saw Willie Mays
At a Scottsdale Home Depot
Looking at garage-door springs
At the far end of the 14th row
The sun is unforgiving and there's
nobody would choose this town
but we've squandered so much of our goodwill
that there's nowhere else would have us now
we push in line at the picture show
for cool air and a chance to see:
A vision of ourselves portrayed as
younger and braver, and humble and free
This was our country
This was our song...

It's heartbreaking, all of it. "Sing it like a song," goes the title track, which along with "Time Is a Lion" are some of the most purely fun songs to sing to I've heard in a long time.
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Finally - another good Joe Henry record?
It was great to see Joe Henry get some national exposure on, of all places, Jay Leno the other night. I too am very happy to see another Joe Henry release coming September 11. I have been a fan since his first release..
Sep 8, 2007 by S. Koch |  See all 2 posts
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