Bentley's Bandstand: Joe Henry, Hank Williams's Lost Notebooks, Pink Floyd

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Joe Henry, Reverie. It is probably a good thing to be well-rested before entering Joe Henry's Reverie. It's a challenging album of wondrous suprises, but they come at a price. Rhythms get fractured, instruments tuned to a private scale and lyrics that could just as easily be taken from a fevered mind. Somehow, though, everything falls into place and Henry takes a huge leap into the very front ranks of America's singer-songwriters. Some may say he's been there all along, but with this new album it's undeniable.
 
       "Now, I sat and watch the falling moon,
        The shower-stars and, coming soon,
        The whole thing will look new--
        When blessedly I will forget
        The ways of God and all regret
        Like I was walking back to you"
 
For being basically a cool cookie, a style developed no doubt over years of producing all kinds of testing artists, Joe Henry wears his heart out on his sleeve. He clearly reads a lot of books and pays attention to the world's trying vagaries, too, because songs like "After the War" (quoted above) and "Room at Arles" show he is tuned into the big mysteries and unafraid at what he's finding out. It takes guts to go there. 
 
There aren't many working at Joe Henry's level these days, let alone someone who's been doing it for three decades without breaking through to the big time. But when music is this affecting the payoff sometimes remains in the doing, and for that this man is richer than everyone. His singing can be so soulful blissful tears seem like the only proper reaction, and the way he can stop time is a gift from a place few ever get to visit. Reverie is just that, the perfect autumnal affair of the heart for music lovers and all others too.
 
hank-williams-notebook.jpgVarious Artists, The Lost Notebooks of Hank Williams. Great writers, of songs or anything else, often leave a lot behind. With country titan Hank Williams that included dozens of lyrics in search of a melody or maybe even more words. When Bob Dylan decided to do something about these musical orphans he enlisted record veteran Mary Martin for help and set about lining up volunteers to throw in their talents. It's a wide sweep, ranging from Merle Haggard to Jack White, but each shares a deep ability to enter the realm of Williams' world and still hold their own.
 
There's a high percentage of bullseyes among these dozen songs, which says something about the material but just as much about the artist line-up. Alan Jackson sets a high mark opening with "You've Been Lonesome, Too." He really may be the best country singer alive right now and a hard act to follow. But follow Bob Dylan does, sounding suitably creaky but full of fire. Norah Jones, Lucinda Williams, Levon Helm and all the other singers each shine strong, and make what could have been a novelty album into something enduring and full of life. To co-write with Hank Williams is a tall order any way you look at it.
 
Williams was only 29 years old when he died. He had changed country music forever, and really hasn't been bested since that last Cadillac trip on New Year's Day in 1953. Thank the lucky stars his notebooks survived all these years, and the men and women on The Lost Notebooks believed in the living and breathing beauty of music enough to enter the realm and ride with the king.  
 
piper-at-the-gates-of-dawn.jpgPink Floyd, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. When in doubt, it's sometimes best to the start at the beginning and try and find the ground floor before the elevator begins its ascent into the luminous clouds. Pink Floyd's entire recorded life is now being reissued in seemingly endless configurations, and without a roadmap the thread can get pretty confusing.
 
All that makes this debut album a bright beacon, and seriously interesting because except for one song by Roger Waters, noted eccentric Syd Barrett wrote every song on it. This was before the waves had crashed on top of Barrett and the rest of the band had to take the wheel before he ran headfirst into the wall.
 
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is just that: recorded in 1967 right before the Beatles ruled the world with Sgt. Pepper's, Pink Floyd harnessed the hallucinatory patterns in the air and captured lightning in a bottle. These early psychedelic excursions retain all the innocent charm of that period, but also show there wasn't room for Syd Barrett to grow. He'd already brought the twilight zone into the studio and made it to the mountaintop. In too many ways, it was all downhill for him after this.
 
Of course, Pink Floyd would go on to conquer the world on a scale few other groups ever achieve. They took rock into places it had never been, and created the great concept album of all time on Dark Side of the Moon. Even if they drifted into pomposity soon enough, their reign can't be denied. EMI is ready to supply every last snap, crackle and pop ever recorded by the Brits in formats once only dreamed about. Still, what Syd Barrett, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason dreamed up here is something to behold. Dawn would never look or sound quite the same again.

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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