Joe Henry Biography

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. As a child Henry moved to the Midwest through his father’s peripatetic job with car manufacturers Chevrolet. Most of his youth was spent in and around Detroit, where he met and married wife Melanie Ciccone (the sister of Madonna). They moved to Brooklyn, New York, in 1985, then Los Angeles in 1990 when Ciccone was offered a job with Brian Eno’s Opal Records. Henry had recorded his first album in 1986 live in the studio, a methodology repeated on all his releases until 1996’s Trampoline. In keeping with his Johnny Cash influences, his subsequent albums for A&M Records offered bleak narratives, relayed in detached, emotionally drained tones.

In 1992, Henry moved to independent label Mammoth for Short Man’s Room. That and the following year’s Kindness Of The World continued to explore moribund themes in a quasi-country style - the title track of the latter album concerning a young boy climbing a high tree to get nearer to his maker. The same album featured backing from the Jayhawks. Literate and engaging, such songs earned him a strong media profile outside of the more obvious Madonna connections, though he felt a little constrained by the country singer-songwriter mantle he had earned himself. Trampoline thus brokered a major transition to electric instrumentation and more expressionistic songwriting. As well as hip-hop beats and jarring guitar effects, this featured Helmet guitarist Page Hamilton on several tracks, notably the album’s stand-out song, ‘Ohio Air Show Plane Crash’, and was recorded in collaboration with producer Patrick McCarthy. In the same year Henry also collaborated with his famous sister-in-law for the first time, Madonna providing backing vocals to his interpretation of Vic Chesnutt’s ‘Guilty By Association’, which was included on the soundtrack to the movie Sweet Relief II: Gravity Of The Situation.

Henry’s first release of the 21st century, 2001’s Scar, featured some surprising guests from the jazz scene, including Ornette Coleman, Brad Mehldau and Brian Blade. The following year Henry produced veteran soul singer Solomon Burke’s excellent comeback album Don’t Give Up On Me, earning a Grammy Award in the process. The subsequent Tiny Voices was Henry’s first release for the Anti label.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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