Joe Henry: Civilians 

My brother raved about Joe Henry's new CD, Civilians, as the best new music he's heard all year. My bother and I don't always agree on musical tastes, but on the off chance he was right, I went out and bought Civilians.

Henry is a singer, songwriter and record producer who's been making music since the mid-'80s. He's been compared to Tom Waits and Bob Dylan, and won a Grammy for producing Solomon Burke's 2002 album, Don't Give Up On Me. Henry recorded Civilians in his basement in just three days, but it doesn't sound rushed. It contains a dozen songs with lush musical arrangements, plaintive vocals and meaningful lyrics. Each song makes a statement of some kind; even the CD's September 11 release date wasn't coincidental.

In "Our Song" Henry uses a once-great baseball player as a metaphor for the United State's lost luster: "This was my country / This was my song / Somewhere in the middle there / It started badly and it's ending wrong." In "Wave" he sings, "Life is brutal to the weak and favored / It's powers of persuasion dark and grave / It pushes its way up to the railing / And turns its face as you start to wave." Despite the brooding, Henry ends Civilians with "Love is Enough."

Notwithstanding his cult following (now including my brother), Henry is still probably best-known for being married to Madonna's sister, Melanie. But that might definitely change as more people tune into Civilians.

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