- Civilians (4:36)
- Parker’s Mood (4:16)
- Civil War (4:42)
- Time Is a Lion (3:54)
- You Can’t Fail Me Now (4:13)
- Scare Me to Death (4:54)
- Our Song (6:19)
- Wave (4:30)
- Love Is Enough (4:49)
- I Will Write My Book (4:11)
- Shut Me Up (6:16)
- God Only Knows (5:02)
Release Date: Sept 11, 2007 (U.S.) • Recording Date: Jan 9, 2007 – Feb 22, 2007
Produced by Joe Henry
Recorded by Ryan Freeland at
The Garfield House
South Pasadena, CA
Mixed by Ryan Freeland at
The Garfield House
Mastered by Gavin Lurssen at
JH – acoustic guitar, handclaps, knee slaps and corduroy
Bill Frisell – electric and acoustic guitar
Greg Leisz – acoustic guitar, mandolin, Weissenborn and lap steel
Patrick Warren – piano, Chamberlin, pump organ and…more
David Piltch – upright and electric bass
Jay Bellerose – drums and percussion
Loudon Wainwright the 3rd – backing vocals
Van Dyke Parks – piano (“Civil War” and “I Will Write My Book”)
Chris Hickey – additional backing vocals (“Civilians” and
“Time Is A Lion”)
The Section Quartet (“Our Song”):
Eric Gorfain – first violin
Daphne Chen – 2nd violin
Leah Katz – viola
Richard Dodd – cello
Strings arranged and conducted by Patrick Warren
All songs by Joe Henry (Blood Count Music/Chrysalis Music; ASCAP),
Except “You Can’t Fail Me Now” by Joe Henry and
Loudon Wainwright the 3rd (Universal Picture Music/Chrysalis Music/Blood Count Music/Snowden Music Inc., ASCAP).
Bill Frisell appears courtesy of Nonesuch Records.
Loudon Wainwright appears out of sheer courtesy alone.
Van Dyke Parks appears to astonish almost everyone.
Photography by John Cohen
from the collection There Is No Eye (2001),
used with his kind permission.
Additional photography by Michael Wilson.
Design by Anabel Sinn.
Good morning, ladies and gentlemen; friends; esteemed colleagues…Madam Speaker. Aware as I am that some of you are updating your files, allow me to share a few descriptive notes that I hope you may find relevant to the business at hand. Let the record show, please, that I arrived here promptly, under my own steam, and that I formally declare the handcuffs to be excessive.
As I appear before you, I have just turned 46 years old. I remain 5’9″ tall and hold steady at 146 pounds. My hair is wavy, but only at my express direction. My eyes are brown or green depending on the light, and I sometimes appear to have a slight limp, if remembering a fall I took in London two years ago October. I am Sagittarian; a Southerner by birth, and Midwestern by transplant; a loyal spouse and the well-meaning but jittery father of two. I live on the fringe of Los Angeles, right where it begins its slide into the San Gabriel Valley, and in a house built in 1904 for a First Lady of these United States of I’m Sorry; and I do so with my loving family who tolerate all manner of racket and laughter issuing from the basement under the guise of serious work being done. I am experimenting with drinking smaller amounts of much stronger coffee; and during fits of insomnia (which I swear has nothing to do with drinking smaller amounts of much stronger coffee) I have contemplated opera, dog training, motorcycles, patriotism, corruption, metallurgy, Perez Prado, the coming revolution, insurance, God, baseball, Skip James and the prospect of making my own gin in a tub behind the garage. “How tough could it be?” I have asked the dark ceiling. “Would I need a permit if not intended for retail?”
That may be all any of you has a right to know. But I am, alas, a simple man, and my life is an open book, even if some passages have been obscured for security purposes. Freedom isn’t free, after all, and neither is that tiny microphone inside the saltshaker. But tell the truth: don’t you just feel safer knowing it’s there? I know I do. Where was I?
Oh yes: Five feet, nine inches tall. And wavy hair, sort of. Not sleeping, and thinking of baseball, ombudsmen and gin. (Am I going too fast?) I wasn’t born in this town, but I’ve taken to it like a stenographer to a presumed-dead surprise witness, both played by Gene Hackman in a career-capping dual role. Los Angeles serves me, and I stand ready to serve it -in the case of emergency and if/when The Perez Prado Story ever goes into production. My proximity to the city allows quick access to legal aid, fine dining, my favorite drummer and, if need be, antique prosthetic limbs and period fire engines, which can be rented by the day or week and delivered to location.
And location is everything. I can now literally climb out of bed and fall straight into the basement of what is known on the historic registry as The Garfield House without so much as my goggles on and be…At Work. I raise a flag out in the front yard that says, “Hiring!” and wait for people to show; and show they do. One week in particular, just after New Year, I crawled out of the furnace room (squirrels again) and found I had a full house, ready and willing to tackle any song I had, no matter what the key or time signature. They just really know how to listen, is the thing. They know by the look in my eye that I’m not much on talk, and deplore options. But what I want is obvious to a blind man, which is why I work in my own cellar with the curtains drawn. What some of us feel called to do with our time has come to be considered providing aid and comfort to the enemy, I understand; and ours is a nation that takes its enemies very seriously, its comfort more so.
But we were talking about music. Loose lips, desperation and convenient morality might make for tense dinner conversation, but put them in waltz time and even the young people lay down their assault rifles and start crowding up next to the stage. The songs making up this particular collection came in fits and starts: a handful quite some time ago; but the majority arrived in a cluster in the late fall. I did what anybody would do, stomping them down and skimming off their juices for bottling. Then, once they’d sat around just long enough (timing is everything), I called in a few close friends with no high concept to guide us other than the time-tested one of our ancestors: twist and pull, breathe and pour. It was important to me that I not let any idea get bigger than the songs themselves. My work is akin to shoveling out a fireplace: If I do it well, the next fire will have more air to breathe. And the fire next time is always the thing. Speaking of which… I have noticed with surprise -and only in retrospect- how often God is mentioned throughout this 12-song cycle, and He must be surprised as well. I recognize in His many appearances, though, not the god of my Methodist raising, who sat judging tennis balls “in” or “out” from high on a perch; but one among us, who stretches like the net itself, wholly visible and there but to frame the attempt. (To me, this is the God of Shakespeare, Wilde, Moliere, and Buster Keaton, and could easily be played by Gene Hackman, if he wasn’t otherwise so occupied.)
I’ve already mentioned the widow Garfield in passing and it is important that she be acknowledged now that I reside and work in the house built for her –the house in which she died, and where her funeral was staged; I need to stay on good terms with her ghostly countenance. She has, to date, been patient and supportive and seems to prefer the lights low, as I do. Like a feral animal that marks its turf, Lucretia (or “Crete” as The President called her) has made her presence known in subtle but noticeable ways on a few occasions. On my first day under her roof, she did, for instance, insist that my stereo play only in mono, no matter how I wired it; but once I conceded that both my engineer and I were powerless to affect any change, she relented and the sonic picture snapped back to full “360-Sound,” like The Wizard of Oz going from black-and-white to Technicolor. Her ghost also appears to prefer that my guests drink rye instead of bourbon, because once I made the switch a matter of house policy, everything seemed to shift for the better. (I might even go so far as to suggest that Mrs. Garfield quite likes to hear the piano played, and may have had something to do with the delivery of Mr. Van Dyke Parks into our midst. He too seems to float a bit, and has not the slightest aversion to America’s oldest whiskey.) It may be worth noting here as well that I’ve had to promise the historical society that a pump organ would be installed, whether it was recorded or not, and I have taken no chances: you can hear it throughout this collection, which I hope will guarantee some good will on the part of that august chamber when it comes time to build the rotunda and the landing strip –both in a mission style and in harmony with neighboring structures, of course.
I will now gladly entertain questions from the floor. Suffice to say, though, that I’ve never been happier, in my life or in my work, and I trust the panel won’t count that against me. I’m well aware that people tend not to prefer happiness as a posture when it comes to their singer/songwriters, but I’ve elected to be unconcerned. There’s still plenty of time, and you can all take heart: if history teaches us anything, my comeuppance is likely just around the corner.