After spending the past few years producing albums for Bonnie Raitt, Meshell Ndegeocello, Billy Bragg, Hugh Laurie, Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr, Over the Rhine and others, Joe Henry plans to return to the artist realm in 2014 with a new set called “Invisible Hour.”
“I’m sure it’s my best record,” Henry tells Billboard about the planned 11-song collection. He describes it as “very acoustic string driven — very acoustic guitar, mandola, mandocello, and yet the rhythm section is very tough and forward as well. It’s an acoustic-centric record, but it’s not a James Taylor record — no disrespect intended to Mr. Taylor. But whereas (2011’s) ‘Reverie’ was very much, sonically speaking, a verite sort of project and I wanted it to sound kind of hard and messy, this one I did not. I wanted things to be, unapologetically, as rich and beautiful, sonically, as they can be, whether that’s the overtones and the bleed between the instruments in the room, the vocals, the instrumentation — I want things to be very rich and forward and the songs to be as bold as they can be. I don’t want anything deliberately obscured.”
Henry recorded the album “over about three and a half days at the end of July.” Noting that he wanted “the playing to meet the songs,” Henry worked with is regular drummer Jay Bellerose and bassist Jennifer Condos, along with guitarist John Smith and multi-instrumentalist Greg Leese. Henry’s son Levon, meanwhile, provides “a lot of, I think, really beautiful and adventurous reed work throughout.”
Henry hopes to release “Invisible Hour” around April, and he plans to put it out himself after a four-album partnership with Anti-.
“We’ve had a great relationship, and I hope my relationship with them as a producer will continue, but I really wanted to rethink my working model,” Henry says. “I think all of us are being challenged to do that right now; it’s not only necessary but also very exciting to do so. My manager has been challenging me for years to just put a record out myself. I’ve always been reluctant, for many different reasons. But now I’ve embraced it; I don’t want to find out the reason I didn’t do it was because I was afraid to. Whether I self-release or do it in some newly imagined partnership I don’t know now, but I’m wide open to the possibilities. I want to be as creative as putting it into the world as I hope I was in making it. The fact I believe in it so strongly makes me feel additionally fearless about how bold I might like to be.”
Henry has his producer’s hat on again as well, this time for a “multi-artist project” for Sony Masterworks re-creating Johnny Cash’s 1964 album “Bitter Tears,” a conceptual set about the plight of Native Americans.
“It was much-maligned when it came out,” Henry says. “There was a very public battle with Columbia Records about the release of the record, and subsequently it was not very well promoted or very widely heard.” Henry plans to use “a small but very particular group of contemporary artists” on the project, but he’s not naming names yet. He hopes to start recording during late January and early February, mostly in Nashville with additional work in California.