Although he’s released 11 studio albums over the past two decades, Joe Henry is no household name. His chief claim to fame: occasional collaborations with his sister-in-law, Madonna.
Too bad; new album Blood From Stars is exquisite. Bathed in low-lit hues, the disc begins with a funereal piano instrumental reminiscent of Vince Guaraldi’s wintry work, then blossoms into a collection of spooky speakeasy jazz, voodoo-folk and macabre blues. Muted horns strut like a Mardi Gras clown through “Bellwether,” while sea-shanty strings cut through drowsy waltz “Progress of Love (Dark Ground).” And “Channel” is simply astounding—a velvet-lined mood piece driven by feathery drumming, crashing piano and devastating lyrics (“I love you with all due desperation ... and disarray”).
Henry’s voice—a cross between Tom Waits’ gravelly gargle and Elvis Costello’s lounge-cynic croon—is Stars’ most effective instrument; on the ominous noir-rocker “Suit on a Frame,” his conversational delivery lingers on each syllable with just the right combination of dread and regret. As with most Henry albums, Stars might not make an immediate impact. But to those willing to let its music sink in, the rewards can be tremendous.