Joe Henry: Civilians

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Joe Henry: Civilians

Despair and hope do a drunken dance on Henry's 10th album

There might be someone else playing music in the vein of Joe Henry’s intoxicating folk-noir, but it’s hard to imagine anyone doing it better.

The title track to Henry’s excellent new album sets the tone, as he looses his sad sacks into a world where “Life is short / But by the grace of God / The night is long” and the music slinks by in rumpled splendor. In lesser hands, this kind of skid-row songcraft might come off as a Tom Waits rip, but Henry’s painterly attention to detail marks him as his own man. Blurry guitars twinkle like suds in a stein, gospel piano chords suggest salvation deep down in the mix, and drums beat strip-club time to the bluesy melodies. The vaguely apocalyptic imagery of “Time Is a Lion” suggests Henry wouldn’t be surprised if we all ended up in the gutter, but the redemptive “You Can’t Fail Me Now” shows he’s got a sliver of hope for us yet.