Joe Henry Tiny Voices

Henry continues to confound. After introducing himself on several albums in the ’90s as an above-average heartland troubadour, he has fully made his transformation into a blender of disparate elements of cool jazz, trip-hop, dark storytelling (and Salvation Army bands); the outcome is a beautifully strange, and endlessly revealing sound. Imagine if Bruce Springsteen still made albums like The Wild, the Innocent & the E Street Shuffle today. As Tiny Voices opens with "This Afternoon” and "Animal Skin,” there are immediate visions of the cocktail lounge from hell. Yet, as the rest of the album unfolds, it becomes clear that Henry has managed the chaos much better than on his previous efforts, Scar and Fuse. Although both were brilliant for the most part, they were also handicapped by self-indulgence in many places. On first impressions, Tiny Voices avoids those pitfalls with a strong collection of songs; many that seem a direct result of his production work last year on soul icon Solomon Burke’s awesome Don’t Give Up On Me. There are also some seeming nods to Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner on the easy-grooving "Flag,” and Small Change-era Tom Waits on "Loves You Madly.” But best of all is "Widows of the Revolution,” an update of a classic low-down blues theme, that both Burke and Ray Charles would do well to record immediately. Although it may overstay its welcome by one or two songs, overall Tiny Voices is another strong work by one of America’s most underappreciated artists. (Anti)