Joe Henry's last album, 2007's Civilians, was all about God and country, a stately and elegant folk project that wove together stories of broken romance and nations in decline, but that always kept a divine hand in sight. God was named directly on nearly every song.
On Henry's latest project, Blood from Stars (Anti), that divine hand is less evident but no less present. Henry—a Grammy-winning producer who was raised Methodist—is still writing about God and country, but now with more narrative mischief and poetic intrigue. God isn't named on "This Is My Favorite Cage," for instance, but his mysterious ways clearly inspire Henry's meditations on how turmoil and tribulation are often used for our good, such as for "wrestling [our] faith down out of the eaves."
Blood from Stars is also about love, divine and human. Henry's lyrics affirm the hard times in which we live: In "All Blues Hail Mary," he sings that "love is light, not glory" and "a story, not a crown." But he also affirms in "Channel" that trying times can yield "beauty at the end." Henry wrestles with having faith in dark days, with forgiveness in the face of division, and with the strange mysteries of grace. "Truce" may serve to tie all the loose ends together: Here, "true revelation" is personified as a thug who wants to break our thumbs: revelation hurts, but Henry somehow remains confident that it's for our own good.
The music itself isn't exactly safe either. Henry distances himself from the mannered folk of Civilians and instead returns to the adventurous, spontaneous jazz-rock fusion of 2003's Tiny Voices, with plenty of left turns in the way of raucous blues, tipsy folk, and even a flamenco-laced ballad.
On Blood from Stars, he brings it all together ...1