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Joe Henry

Civilians (Anti-)

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You wouldn't think someone married to Madonna's sister would have something against writing pop ditties, but that seems to be the case with Joe Henry. (Other than "Don't Tell Me," the hit single he wrote for Madge's 2000 album, Music, that is.)

Bouncing between genres as varied as alt-country and jazz -- not to mention producing critically acclaimed albums for Elvis Costello, Solomon Burke, and Ani DiFranco -- Henry is hard to slap a label on. This holds especially true for his 2003 effort, Tiny Voices; let's just call it "beautifully inaccessible."

His latest disc, however, is stripped-down, often featuring little more than his vulnerable voice, guitar, and basic percussion. The lyrics, too, are simple. "Time is a lion, and you are a lamb," he sings on "Time Is a Lion," Civilians' standout track. Even while speaking to themes like betrayal and warfare, Henry manages to keep it catchy and easy. It's not that his backup players aren't talented -- they are -- or that Henry's production isn't layered -- it is. There's just something satisfying about such a complex artist simplifying things for us simple folk.

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