Joe Henry: Civilians
Civilians (Anti 89860)
Patrick Warren (piano, organ, chamberlain), David Pilch (bass), Jay Bellerose (drums/percussion).
Composed by Joe Henry.
Recorded: The Garfield House, CA, Jan/Feb 2007
Rating: 98/100 (learn more)
Bill Frisell has always been an in-demand session player, from his early ECM days to his extended stints with John Zorn and Paul Motian. Over the past decade, this reputation has not only increased but, just as Frisell’s own music, it has crossed over genre lines – where Frisell has lent his song-centric talents to countless singer-songwriters, just a few of which include: Lucinda Williams (West), Paul Simon (Surprise), Loudon Wainwright III (Here Come the Choppers), Elvis Costello (Deep Dead Blue), Vic Chestnut (Ghetto Bells), and Joe Henry’s 2004 release for the Anti label, Civilians.
[While Frisell is the star of the show here, a brief sidebar is owed to Joe Henry, one of the great unsung singer-songwriters of the past two decades who’s a jazz fan and owner of this impressive list of musicians who have contributed to his last handful of solo albums: Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman (live in studio!), Marc Ribot, Brad Mehldau, Brian Blade, Don Byron, and Jason Moran. Nowadays, Henry is busy as a producer, evidenced by two new recordings that have been reviewed on jazz.com: Allen Toussaint’s The Bright Mississippi and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot’s A Stranger Here. All great music to be explored.]
Of the abovementioned jazz-crossover guest spots offered by Henry, his smartest and most successful was inviting Bill Frisell to perform on all of his Civilians record. Alongside longtime Frisell collaborator Greg Leisz (guitar, pedal steel, mandolin), Frisell provides a master class in complementing a singer in a pop setting – leaving plenty of space but poking in to connect lyrical phrases at all of the perfect times. With another musician at the helm, this entire album could have taken the turn toward cluttered, but not with Frisell involved. On “Civilians,” Frisell (panned mid-left) creates a fun, twisted, dissonant little melody to match the chugging New Orleans-meets-Tom Waits groove. Note how he fuses this instrumental theme with Henry’s vocal to achieve unity from beginning to end.
Reviewer: Eric Novod