[Rating: 4 stars]
Reverie is, in Henry’s own words, a “raw and raucous and messy affair,” recorded in his home studio during live takes with the windows purposely left open. The resulting street sounds of fire engines, dogs barking and traffic moving become as much a part of the fabric of these acoustic but far from laid back sessions as the music itself.
On his twelfth album, Henry reconvenes the core band that made his eleventh such a revelation. The jazz trio pushes his classic Tin Pan Alley/Tom Waits structures almost, but not quite, off the rails. The songs rattle, hum, bump and grind like a drunken stripper on a creaky stage. They include elements from Sinatra styled pop crooners to pre-war blues and gospel all pumped with blood from the heart of the ensemble, in particular the clatter and thump of Jay Bellerose’s drums and pounding piano from the extraordinary Keefus Ciancia.
The tunes seldom go where you, or perhaps even Henry, expects. They twist wildly on the verses but right themselves in time for choruses that are memorable if not exactly sing-along. Henry’s everyman vocals and poetic, dusky somewhat stream of consciousness lyrics tie the disparate elements together in a shabby bundle that sneaks inside your brain and demands multiple returns to unravel their mysteries. It’s an album that gets under your skin and squirms around, exposing itself gradually but intently, after each replay. Selections such as the ballad “Dark Secrets” are propelled by primitive drumming and Henry’s bluesy guitar, underpinning evocative words such as “I walk the shadow river and the dead don’t mind at all, their memories just grow stronger and the stories twice as tall.”
This material is not meant for parties or background listening;its layers, meanings and implications need to be absorbed gradually and without distractions. In Reverie, Joe Henry and his group have created a raw, raucous and messy masterpiece. It emerges from the heart and soul of musicians locked into each other’s vibe, playing off each other and allowed the freedom to wander within the haunting music’s beautiful, imposing, expansive yet stark and often subtle boundaries.