Guest / Limited Access /

Picture this: a smoky dive bar at twenty to midnight. Wandering inside, you notice the moody piano player, and he begins to sing. Barely visible in the shadows, the band kicks in and catches you by surprise, sweeping you away into a series of musical dreams—striking, surreal, and strangely moving.

This is the atmosphere of Joe Henry's new album, Civilians, an exhibit of detailed portraits of an America in decline, with glimpses of transcendent hope.

Henry's a Grammy-winning producer, but his own records are like poetry readings set to ghostly music. These songs, enhanced by musicians of subtlety and style, such as guitarist Bill Frisell and drummer Jay Bellerose, recall Bob Dylan's Oh Mercy and Time Out of Mind.

A coachman, driving his horses into darkness, pulls up his coat and ignores the nighttime revelers. Is this the world's end, or a last chance for sinners to find grace? "Life is short," Henry sings, "But by the grace or cruel / Heart of God / The night is long."

Elsewhere, jazz giant Charlie Parker wakes up to realize, "The things we put together / The world will tear apart." But when he declares "My love is here to stay," he might be realizing the power of art to preserve a dream.

Later, baseball legend Willie Mays haunts a Home Depot, musing about American history: "This was my country /This was my song / Somewhere in the middle there / Though it started badly / And it's ending wrong." Still, he hopes that troubling times might make him "a better man."

For every glimpse of grace, there's a painful reminder of this present darkness. "God may be kind and treat you like a son," sings Henry, "but time is a lion, and you are a lamb."

Nevertheless, Civilians' high point—"You Can't Fail Me Now"—culminates with ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Tags:
From Issue:
Browse All Music Reviews By:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only Pushing Daises
A pie maker's gift brings energy to quirky dramedy 'Pushing Daises.'
Current IssueNew & Noteworthy Books
Subscriber Access Only
New & Noteworthy Books
Compiled by Matt Reynolds
Current IssueThe New Baptist Covenant: Will It Work?
Subscriber Access Only
The New Baptist Covenant: Will It Work?
Jimmy Carter's attempt to unite Baptists may be a bridge too far for some.
TrendingResearch Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
Research Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
A study of 250 congregations suggests that youth and young adults want substance rather than style.
Editor's PickThe Precarious Future of Assisted Suicide
The Precarious Future of Assisted Suicide
'Culture of Death' sounds the alarm on pending medical bioethics legislation and other troubling trends.
Christianity Today
Haunting Salvation
hide thisMarch March

In the Magazine

March 2008

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.