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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"
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a solid record, consistent musically with some life to it. I've been a fan of Henry's since Murder of Crows and in some ways this record harkens back toward earlier works... Read morePublished 16 months ago by McKinzie Brantley
I love this guy! I have four earlier Joe Henry albums, all good. This one seems to gets better with every listen. Read morePublished on March 15, 2014 by Albert
What can I say, I stumbled upon this and fell in love with his sound. Interesting story telling and thought provoking lyrics.Published on December 19, 2012 by Amazon Customer
This album sticks with you, and entrances. I bought this record when it was first released. Two years later, I'm still listening to it frequently. "Parker's Mood" is brilliant. Read morePublished on December 2, 2009 by NolaKate
I am puzzled that I didn't know who Joe Henry was until now. If it wasn't for the TMC Remembers 2008 where they feature his song, "God Only Knows, he would have passed me by and it... Read morePublished on November 16, 2009 by Sylviastel
Civilians being Henry's 11th studio album and 2007 release was met with mixed reviews by the critics. Read morePublished on October 10, 2009 by Bjorn Viberg
Civilians is a must have CD. The music and lyrics are so good that they take you back to the times when the world was a more honest place and our feelings were too. Read morePublished on February 26, 2009 by Worthy music
The songs on this album are brilliant. Buy it - you won't be disappointed. You'll play it over and over again - especially on those days when you need something to remind you of... Read morePublished on February 24, 2009 by Amazon Customer