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Music Review: Joe Henry weighs risks and rewards of love in distinctive set of songs

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Joe Henry, "Invisible Hour" (Work Song)

Joe Henry has produced artists ranging from Aaron Neville and Billy Bragg to Me'Shell Ndegeocello and Bonnie Raitt. Yet when he makes his own albums, they sound like no one else.

"Invisible Hour" is an enchanting 60 minutes of music packaged in 11 songs that reveal their charms slowly. Henry opens with a seven-minute ballad, and a subsequent one runs even longer. Clearly Henry's in no hurry as he expresses his thoughts on the risks and rewards of love.

Hooks are few and the accompaniment is spare, with the thrum of guitar interrupted by occasional spasms of percussion and woodwinds from Henry's son, Levon, who merges the sounds of klezmer, New Orleans and Stravinsky.

Even amid trilling clarinets, the focus remains on Henry's lyrics, which read like literature, with unpredictable rhythms and noun-verb combinations. Hearts wane. Shadows wait. Angels rumble. Days flee.

He sings these words with the timbre of a soul man and scoops into them like a country artist. Henry is both, and neither, producing music beyond category. This is what makes "Invisible Hour" time well spent.

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