T.J. Simon's #1 album for 2003
First Appeared at The Music Box, November 2003, Volume 10, #11
Written by T.J. Simon
Tiny Voices, Joe Henry’s ninth album, forgoes the country tilt his music has displayed over the years in favor of a lush, jazzy ambience. During the five days it took to record the disc in December 2002, Henry surrounded himself with a cast of accomplished musicians from both the rock and jazz worlds, wisely trusting his hired guns to improvise during the sessions in order to create the musical textures that envelop his basic arrangements. The formula was a resounding success, and Tiny Voices is one of the most atmospheric and sophisticated releases of 2003.
Those who listen to a massive number of albums each year undoubtedly will love Tiny Voices because it’s such a unique piece of musical art. As such it’s difficult to find an analogy to describe this disc simply because there’s nobody out there doing what Henry does — although the Howard Fishman Quartet is in the proper neighborhood. Rather than having a standout single, the songs on Tiny Voices work together to form an interwoven tapestry as one track melts into the next without the requisite moments of silence that typically fill the spaces between cuts. For example, Dirty Magazine segues nicely into Flag thanks to the muted clarinet and tenor saxophone of Don Byron and the piano improvisations of Dave Palmer and Patrick Warren.
Based upon Henry’s stellar lyrics, one gets the feeling that he could have been a poet, an essayist, or a novelist. He steps out of his own skin to assume the persona of a hotel maid on This Afternoon and a woman suffering from poverty and neglect on Widows of the Revolution. While his voice is smooth — not unlike that of Ron Sexsmith or Sting — Henry’s literate songwriting style and vivid characterizations are more akin to label-mate Tom Waits. Check out Loves You Madly and Flesh and Blood for textbook examples of how to craft perfect lyrics and complement them with complex melodies.
Tiny Voices is not a hooky pop album, but rather it is a sonic, beautiful musician’s piece. As such, it requires multiple listens to fully appreciate its many textures. Henry produced the disc himself, and he brings some impressive production credentials to the table after winning a Grammy Award last year for his work on Solomon Burke’s comeback album Don’t Give Up On Me. On Tiny Voices, Henry modernizes the jazz instrumentation with avant-garde flourishes — a drum loop here and a sound effect there — to avoid sounding like a retro act. As a result, the album contains the best production of the year, and it all comes together to be what is without a doubt one of the finest albums in recent memory.
Of Further Interest...
Tiny Voices is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box