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Joe Henry: Blood From Stars (Anti-) 

Record-producer extraordinaire Joe Henry takes his own brand of pensive Americana a step deeper into the underworld on Blood From Stars, a dreamy and brooding album that just may be the peak of his career.

It's a shifting kaleidoscope, an album that can't rightly be called rock, folk, jazz or blues—though by turns, it's all of those things. It's also a lyrical journey through a dark and visceral world that exists only after the decent people have gone to bed.

Adding jazz pianist Jason Moran, guitarist Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello) and his 17-year-old son, Levon, on saxophone, to his longtime band (Patrick Warren on keyboards, David Piltch on bass and Jay Bellerose on drums), Henry has a crew versatile enough to leave nuances and surprises everywhere.

The opening prelude and final coda share the same name, "Light No Lamp When the Sun Comes Down," kicking the album off with a soft piano instrumental and then closing it down with an admonition to not guard against the dark, the storms or time itself, to instead "pull the dark close to your face" and embrace the wonder and grace of the vibrant natural world.

"Death to the Storm" is a creeping menace of a song, mixing bursts of military drum rolls with tinkling piano notes and a full-throated, ominous chorus.

For the cover, Henry selected a W. Eugene Smith photograph of a steel mill at night. The stark image is a fitting cover for the atmospheric music the album contains.

More by Eric Swedlund

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