Joe Henry, with his new album All The Eye Can See, continues to write brand new sonic and quite secular scripture verse. And, with this secluded pandemic recording, he finds (metaphorically speaking!) the wind-swept simplicity of melodic words left in a gnostic cave of long-lost mystical thought. And that’s a pretty cool thing to do.
My friend, Kilda Defnut, said, “This music touches Henry David Thoreau’s Americana magical insight that never really wanted to sing a catchy tune”.
I say these songs just beg for the bounty of a garden in which to grow. And this music confesses the sad beauty of any very American psychological prayer. Perhaps it’s hyperbole, but Joe Henry’s music is a history book open to a sepia photographed Dust Bowl family, with eight blank hungry eyes, while bibbed dad looks westward with a grim hope of a job, a school house, and hopefully, a place where his mom and dad can rest in peace. Perhaps (again), dark despair can, eventually, find its way into the deep grooves of a melodic song.
Yes indeed, ‘Prelude To Song’ is a gentle instrumental, which leads into ‘Song That I Know’. This accordion/piano/gut string guitar/violin circumference frames JH’s weary and soulful vocals, that (perhaps, hyperbole again!), course through the very same “whispering pines” of (the great) Richard Manuel’s baritone imagination.
And ‘Mission’ has an acoustic guitar purity that kindles the ‘Which Will’ touch of (the also very great!) Nick Drake. This is the type of music that asks the eternal question, as posed in JH’s tune ‘Odetta’, “Whose chickens are those in my yard?” It’s also the stuff that will always rise “from the morning”.
The deep simplicity and profound confession continue: ‘Yearling’ nestles into the quietude of guitar, violin, piano, and vocals, and has the prayerful plea “to keep me safe from everything I thought would set me free”. Then, ‘Near To The Ground’ swells with strings and a passionate falsetto-laced vocal. This music is so subtle that it wins melodic chess games without a modicum of motion with nary a need for an opening moved sacrificial pawn. Of course, ‘Karen Dalton’, pulses through antiquated blues and a dense psych wormhole. The is also true for ‘Small Wonder’, with the line “Someone broke into my eyes and took all there is to see”. This is dark stuff. In contrast, ‘Oh Beloved’ resurrects a welcomed waltz, with more swirling strings and a big sax memorable dance step. And ‘Kitchen Door’ blows with the very same “tumbleweed” passion that years ago, Elton John used to sculpt “the sweetest eyes” into a “wonderful world” of such a gentle a song.
Oh -‘God Laughs’ (nice title, that!) throws a quizzical curveball lyric in which “God laughs herself into thunder”, and later in more quasi-metaphysical words, “God laughs herself beyond reason”. Sure, there’s more gnostic cave long-lost (and really nice!) mystical thought.
The weary title song, ‘All The Eye Can See’, bleeds a river’s acoustic pulse that desires to seek its beloved source. And a sax contemplates those deep currents. of (still) quite secular, but blessed scripture verse.
Then, ‘Pass Through Me Now’ nestles in melodic darkness and begs for some sort of transcendence. This tune may well be the Purgatorial soul of the album.
A brief (sort of) reprise instrumental ‘Prologue Of Song’ unifies the art, as these songs circulate through a singular heartbeat, which then flows into ‘Red Letter Day’, a song imbued with the thought, as JH states in his notes, that “the fire is as warming and bright as it is consuming”. Great music often burns with that same ironic intensity.
All The Eye Can See is a pure and just American album that spins with Atticus Finch wisdom. And, like the mysterious and kind Boo Radley, this music leaves us with gifts here and there; and in the end, sings with a somber rescue for all of us who love the minutia of life enough to ask the eternal question, Whose chickens are those in my yard?” and then, thankfully, find the immense profundity in such simple melodic American Gothic barnyard poetry grace – a folk prayer laced with an uncertain secular scripture, yet wind-swept like the eyes of a Dust Bowl dad, with words left in a rebellious gnostic cave’s long lost mystical and now vinyl grooved thought. And (as said!) that’s a pretty cool thing to do.
Artist’s website: https://www.joehenrylovesyoumadly.com/
‘All The Eye Can See’ – official lyric video: