Joe Henry @ Live at Whelan’s – Thursday 28th August 2013.


This is the first visit to Ireland for an artist who started his recording career back in 1986 and has delivered 12 official releases over the succeeding 25 years. In recent years Joe Henry has been as renowned for his production talents and has worked with many great artists, including Elvis Costello; The Jayhawks; Mavis Staples; Solomon Burke and Brad Mehldau to name but a few.

Part of the reason for his appearance on these shores is the connection with Lisa Hannigan and his work on her Passenger release of 2012. Tonight Joe Henry is joined onstage by Lisa and her regular drummer Ross Turner, together with guitarist John Smith who has garnered a strong reputation over his three releases as a solo artist of some repute.

The band plays as a tight unit throughout, displaying a light touch in the interpretation of the song arrangements, given the short rehearsal time that they must have had. There is one more show to follow in Switzerland, but the impression is that the Dublin show is a key pleasure for Joe and this band of minstrels.

Opening with Sold from his Tiny Voices recording Joe Henry immediately establishes the mood for the evening in his laid back, ‘less is more’ approach to the song structure and establishes an immediate rapport with the audience, who listen in  restrained and interested silence.

Odetta follows from the most recent Reverie recording, swiftly followed by a new song, Grave Angels, which touches on the subject matter of marriage and commitment. Straight away one realises that we are in the presence of something special and the unique atmosphere of the occasion continues to reveal hidden treasures as the night unfolds.

We are treated to an old favourite in Monkey from the Fuse release in 1999 and this recording is revisited later in the set with a stirring version of Like She Was a Hammer. In between we get You Can’t Fail Me Now and Civil War from the Civilian recording; the first sung in honour of Bonnie Raitt who recently covered the song on her latest CD and the latter, joined on piano and vocals by our own Gavin Glass, who sings sweetly and plays beautifully.

Lisa Hannigan performs two of her own unique songs from the Passenger CD; Little Bird and A Sail, plus she sings a haunting version of Eyes Out for You from Joe’s Reverie CD. There are a couple more new songs tried out on the ever enthusiastic audience, Lead Me On and Plain Speak, coupled with a defining version of Flag from the sublime Tiny Voices CD. “Laugh or bleed, as you need to; who of us doesn't know already? Every flag flies like confetti now”.

Joe Henry does not write political songs as a rule but this song is delivered as a keenly observed statement in frustration at the abuse of power.

The interplay between musicians is never short of captivating as we witness the unfolding of great songs, insightful words and joyful acoustic connection in the arrangements. Ending with These Days, a Jackson Browne cover played with grace and majesty, Joe Henry returns to the stage for a final song, Kindness of the World which has the ecstatic crowd on their feet shouting for a fast return to build upon the great swell of joy he left behind this night in Dublin. 

Review and photograph by Paul McGee