My Joe Henry Wishlist
Perhaps you heard the announcement– made some months ago– that the one-of-a-kind Joe Henry would be producing a record for kindred spirits Over the Rhine. By now, the album is finished, and forthcoming in the first part of the next year; my enthusiasm for the pairing hasn’t diminished a bit since the announcement was first made. If you know me, or have read my music reviews over the years, you know that Over the Rhine is one of my favorite bands of all time, and Henry one of my favorite producers. Not only that, but they seem to me like their spirits would prove to be perfectly complementary. For years, I’ve said that I hoped the two would one day collaborate.
And evidently, wishes do come true. And that got me thinking: If my Joe Henry/Over the Rhine wish can come true, maybe there are others that can come true, as well. So in that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of the top ten artists who I’d most like to see make albums under the watchful eye of Mr. Henry; let’s hope at least a few more of these dreams become reality.
(By way of disclaimer: Yes, I do think a Henry/Dylan pairing would be pretty cool, but I’ve left Bob off this list so that I can save him for my Jack White wishlist. I mean, can you imagine? Bob Dylan in full-on garage-rock mode, Jack at the controls and, possibly, Meg on the skins?)
10. The Roots
I’m pitching this one pretty low on the list for the simple reason that, frankly, I’m not sure that The Roots need the help right now; with ?uestlove at the helm, they’re doing the best work of their career. Still, Henry commented, years back, that he’d like to work with The Roots, and the prospect of him working in a soulful hip-hop idiom is tantalizing, while the thought of The Roots making their most laid-back, low-key and organic album yet– and with Henry at the helm, could it possibly be anything else?– has its merits as well.
09. Lucinda Williams
Frankly, she could use a little guidance these days.
08. Elvis Costello
I’m halfway cheating here; Henry technically has produced Costello, on the collaborative album he made with Allen Toussaint, The River in Reverse. But I’d love to hear him make a concept-free solo album for Costello– intimate, loose, funny, without any of the pretensions or stiffness that have marked many of Costello’s recent works. In other words, a Momofuku with Jay Bellerose on drums.
07. Merle Haggard
Here’s a guy who seems right up Henry’s alley: An old voice who still has much to tell us, who’s still making albums that are funny and warm and wise and full of spark. Henry, I think, is just the man to coax a few new tricks out of Hag– to not only build on his legacy, but to truly expand it.
06. Sam Phillips
They already work with the same group of musicians. Might as well just make this one official.
05. Robert Plant
Robert Plant is increasingly consumed by the myths of the weird old Americana, and his work in this vein– with T-Bone Burnett and Buddy Miller– has yielded some fine results. Who better than Henry to take it to the next level– to marry the mystery and allure of Dreamland and Raising Sand with some of the old grit and muscle of the best Zeppelin albums?
04. Josh Ritter
I’m very much a fan of Ritter’s creative relationship with Sam Kassirer and the fine albums it’s wrought, but I increasingly wonder how Ritter would sound in a more spare, organic environment– say, with Joe Henry’s crack studio band behind him?
03. PJ Harvey
I love this lady’s voice, I love her songwriting, I love her risks– but oh, how sweet would it be to hear her work with a producer who restrains her from her indulgences and her baser instincts?
02. Elton John
His big comeback album is, reportedly, on the way, with T-Bone behind the wheel. An album with Joe Henry seems like the next logical step. It’s time for John to make mature, elegant albums like he used to make, and I suspect that Henry is just the man for capturing that old Tumbleweed Connection magic again.
01. Erykah Badu
Badu is, in my opinion, the finest soul singer working today– and I love the inspired weirdness she’s brought to her New Amerykah albums, as well as the R&B muscle of Mama’s Gun. But I think she has her most open-hearted, generous work yet to come: Something warm, in-the-moment, and improvisational. Something where the focus isn’t on the production, but solely on that voice, and on the songs. Get Joe at the controls and, perhaps, Bellerose and ?uestlove sharing drum duties, and I don’t see how it could be anything but an instant classic.