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Joe Henry embraces his solo side for latest spate of gigs

21st Century Media/Digital Media First, @GraffonMu

Posted: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

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Joe Henry has surrounded himself with plenty of interesting collaborators and his clients during his Grammy Award-winning career as a singer, songwriter, performer and producer -- from Bonnie Raitt, Bettye LaVette, Elvis Costello and Hugh Laurie to his sister-in-law, Madonna.

But going it alone, as he is for a handful of concerts this year, is something new for the Rochester Adams High School graduate.

"I've never done it on purpose," says Henry, 52. "I"ve played alone when circumstances insisted I do, but never because I wanted to. I always felt it was under-realized for what I was imagining in my mind -- even though I love it when people break it down that way.

"But recently I just had this impulse, I would say compulsion, to stand alone in front of an audience and deliver these songs. I wanted my delivery to be as frank and available as it could possibly be and just be on that wire alone. I felt like there's really something there to be discovered and I want to be able to do this and do it really well. I'm very surprised at how enjoyable I've found it to be."

The solo dates are capping an active and accomplished year for Henry. On the musical front he's produced albums for Laurie, Billy Bragg and Over The Rhine, and he's recorded a new set of his own, "Invisible Hour," that will come out in 2014 and is gearing up to helm a fresh reimagining of "Bitter Tears," Johnny Cash's controversial 1964 paean about the plight of Native Americans, with a group of contemporary artists. Henry and his brother David also published a biography about Richard Pryor, "Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World That Made Him," an outgrowth of a screenplay the Henrys were asked to do by Pryor and his wife that has not moved forward.

"Richard's wife pulled the plug on it," says Henry, who became friendly with Pryor after writing and recording a song called "Richard Pryor Addresses a Tearful Nation" on his 2001 album "Scar." "We played with the screenplay a bit longer, and one day my brother said, 'Who knows what will ever happen with this. LEt's write a book and do what we want.'

"So we did. It's a completely different tone, texture and agenda than the screenplay, but we got a book deal, shockingly, very quickly, and I'm really shocked at the level of the response, and that so much of it has come from really mainstream sources. It's really been an amazing ride."

Joe Henry performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Ark, 316 S. Main St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $20. CAll 734-861-1451 or visit www.theark.org.

Web Site: www.theark.org

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