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
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.