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music reviewmusic reviewmusic review  out of 4 Music Review: Scar

Artist: Joe Henry
Genre: Rock
Release Date: May 2001

Review by LarryG
3 stars out of 4

Scar is a very strong addition to Joe Henry's already impressive resume. On Scar, Henry basically abandons the rock song form, creating an excellent set of mostly mellow, dreamy songs. As before, Henry writes about obsessions and tense, emotionally charged relationships. But Scar's music, supplied by very skilled jazz musicans, gives Henry's dark songs a warmer, fuller sound than they've had in the past.

From its start, it's apparent that Scar is going to be different and interesting. Richard Pryor Addresses A Tearful Nation is moody and haunting. Saxophone great Ornette Coleman slithers around Henry's vocal and plays a very cool solo. Henry's reticent, slightly spooky voice fits well with Brad Mehldau's bluesy keyboards and the song's general loose, melancholy mood, as he plays a self destructive guy looking for love.

Like on Henry's very good Trampoline and Fuse CDs, Scar's songs are atmospheric and restrained. But Scar's very good musicians and an unhurried pace give the songs, most of which are jazz tinged rather than overtly jazzy, added flavor and depth. Henry wrote Stop for his sister in law Madonna. She took most of the lyrics and turned it into Don't Tell Me. Stop is very different. Madonna's slick pop song about unconditional love becomes a tango of obsession. Strings, piano, Marc Ribot's trademark jagged, exotic guitar and Henry's somewhat sinister voice create a mysterious, teasing mood.

Scar is mostly mellow and unrushed. Henry has the confidence in his writing and musicians to keep things fairly simple. A langorous pace adds to the songs' mood and texture. Henry's writing is often surprising sweet and tinged with regret. Mean Flower's keyboards create a warm feel. Henry's croak loosens up a little as he laments how a love's become "beautiful and cruel." . Struck's minimal keyboards, strings and guitar are moved forward by a slow, steady beat. In his twisty, pinched voice, Henry sings of a woman who's impervious to his feelings and sparing in sharing her love. Rough And Tumble is fun, speeding things up for a good, light piece of jazz funk with great guitar and bass. Henry mischievously sings that, while she warned him, he's surprised a woman was so rough in leaving him.

The jazz accompaniment humanizes Henry's thin, often cold delivery. He's no Sinatra but Henry does well with two torchy lounge songs. Opening with Mehldau's extended piano intro, Lock And Key has a quiet, introspective mood. Henry's voice fits the subdued music, singing about a woman who cast her spell on him then locked herself away from him. On Cold Enough To Cross, Mehldau's piano and Bobby Malach's horns create a poignant, retro mood. Henry sadly sings of being afraid to cross the abyss that's developed in a relationship, even as his love wades in the flood and cries his name. Edgar Bergen has a cool, striking sound, with primitive percussion that's periodically joined by stirring strings that match the lyrics about a turbulent relationship. Scar's title track effectively matches Henry's pained, intense voice to atmospheric, moody music.

Scar has a couple instrumentals that are the only pure jazz on the record. Nico Lost One Small Buddha's music is similar to Rough And Tumble's. It's a pleasant jam that lets Ribot, Malach, Mehldau and bass player Me'shell Ndegeocello show off their chops but doesn't add much to the record. Scar's coda is Pryor Reprise, a long Ornette Coleman solo with his distinctive experimental style.

Scar is a very impressive collection of mostly sad, vivid studies of how screwed a couple can be. Henry's wry, understated singing and writing is well supported by the band of top notch jazz musicians: Brian Blade and Abe Laboriel, Jr. on drums, Ndegeocello and David Pilch on bass and Ribot and Mehldau. The musicians do an excellent job of spicing up and filling up the sound of Henry's dreamy, reflective, moody and very good songs.



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