Quietly but inexorably, Joe Henry has built a sterling reputation as a sensitive and resourceful producer, particularly working with those with rootsy inclinations. New projects are in the works with Mose Allison and Harry Belafonte, and he was responsible for a couple of landmark, Grammy-nominated 2009 albums: Allen Toussaint's The Bright Mississippi and Ramblin' Jack Elliott's A Stranger Here (which won one). All of which shouldn't overshadow his own albums, which particularly of late have been idiosyncratic gems. His 11th and latest, Blood from Stars, is rooted in vintage blues, jazz, and gospel, but those are really only starting points for a sound that seems to stretch across decades, eras, and genres as casually as if they were mere blips. There are evocations of pre-war Back o' Town New Orleans with dirty coronet lines, fleeting bits of ragtime, country blues, early bop and pop, Django, avant-garde rock, and jazz. Most of the songs are melancholy ruminations strewn across spacious arrangements elegantly etched by a stellar cast of musicians including guitarist Marc Ribot, bassist David Piltch, drummer Jay Bellerose, Henry's son Levon on sax and clarinet, plus a guest shot from pianist Jason Moran. But a lot of the album's character is derived from whatever lurks in those spaces—"a ghost from my dreams," shadows of anger and tears, weariness and shame—as Henry's grainy croon slips past, contemplating enigmas. Bellerose and Piltch will accompany Henry at the Dakota.
Sun., March 14, 7 p.m., 2010