Invisible Hour

Joe Henry - Invisible Hour album cover

(2014) Work Song


Songs

  1. Sparrow
  2. Grave Angels
  3. Sign
  4. Invisible Hour
  5. Swayed
  6. Plainspeak
  7. Lead Me On
  8. Alice
  9. Every Sorrow
  10. Water Between Us
  11. Slide



Credits

  • Release Date: Jun 3, 2014 (U.S.)
  • Recording Date: Jul 24-26 & 31, 2013
Jay Bellerose Drums
Jennifer Condos Electric Bass
JH Acoustic Guitar and Vocals
Levon Henry Clarinet and Bass Clarinet, Tenor & Soprano Saxophones
Greg Leisz Acoustic Guitar, Mandola, Mandocello, Weissenborn
John Smith Acoustic Guitar, Mandola, Backing Vocals
David Piltch Upright Bass (“Invisible Hour” and “Lead Me On”)
-Special Guests-
The Milk Carton Kids
(Kenneth Pattengale
& Joey Ryan)
Backing Vocals
Lisa Hannigan Vocals on “Lead Me On”

 


Lyrics

SPARROW

It wasn’t peace I wanted
So it wasn’t peace I found,
I wouldn’t stand for reason
And it never would sit down.
The bird upon my shoulder
Has not one kind word to say—
My eye is on the sparrow,
But she looks the other way

Carry on, and me away,
Hey, look alive— the end of days
And our very blood
Taste like honey now

There upon the mountain
Is the shadow of a hand
Tugging at the stubborn mule
Now standing like a man
And twitching like the phantom limb
Of this whole countryside—
Disappearing at the knee
And breaking up our stride

Carry on, and me away,
Hey, look alive— the end of days
And our very blood
Taste like honey now

I want time and bread and wine,
Sugar and a spoon,
I want for the hungry years
To be swallowed by this room.
I wait out your memory
Now singing in the trees—
I wait for one grave angel
And I know she waits for me

Carry on, and me away,
Hey, look alive— the end of days
And our very blood
Taste like honey now

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GRAVE ANGELS

We are gathered together,
We are hidden from view—
In a tangle of laurel, we tear at our sorrow
Like bread and we start up anew;
Where a circus stands blazing
And steam engines brake and whine,
In a razed hobo jungle your lost and found wonder
Has risen and mixes with mine.

Then, foolish we are, in the presence of God
And what all his [her] grave angels have done—
In love’s growling weather, if we’re dreaming together
Of a heaven apart from this one…
Apart from our own

I take this to be holy—
If futile, uncertain and dire:
Our union of fracture, our dread everlasting,
This beautiful, desperate desire.
The cloud darkens to harrow,
It crosses your heart like hand,
But it’s cool like the shadow of all that we’ve seen by the
Light that we can’t understand

Then, foolish we are, in the presence of God
And what all his [her] grave angels have done—
In love’s growling weather, if we’re dreaming together
Of a heaven apart from this one…
Apart from our own

There’s a new year starting backwards,
From high up in naked trees,
That threw all their clothes like burning money
To the ground and all around our knees.
We live outside of reason
And we’re called to stand out of time—
To hover above the rough river of love
That runs ahead but calls from behind.

Then, foolish we are, in the presence of God
And what all his [her] grave angels have done—
In love’s growling weather, if we’re dreaming together
Of a heaven apart from this one…
Apart from our own

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SIGN

I was born in Montreal,
A winter’s slip that bloomed in fall
Due my father’s lot in life,
I got his name and I killed his wife
As if her blood I’d broken through
Had never been enough for two…
So I was sent out early on
To cutting black ice on the pond,
To lying flat and pulling free
Whatever might rise up to me

I held my tongue for seven years,
Fluttered my hands, closed my ears—
As if deaf to every word,
Refusing every song I heard
That might connect me to this ground,
And hold me should I speak its sound;
So silence spoke for me instead,
And hovered like the passing dead
Whose prayer is but a laugh unfurled
Above this lost edge of the world

When I was twelve my father fled
He left me all he was and had—
His hammer and a dying fire,
An empty vein, and one desire:
To lead my pony from the mines
And ride him hard beyond the time
Of broken, long-forgotten souls
Who become their fathers in these holes
That spark and fume and smoke and seethe
And claim these hills but can’t claim me

I was wild at twenty-three,
My burning mind turned to the sea,
And a sour engine room
Of a war ship, hoping war came soon—
I spent my rage in tiny towns
Wherever we might run aground;
And every face that met my eye
Was calling on some wish to die,
But if I stood and drank alone
Then that wish became my own

The years ran as if for their lives.
I, the shameless beau of a governor’s wife—
Standing just outside of view
Holding hats and coats and shoes…
Then running guns for a lost decade,
Posing as a doctor’s aide—
I pushed pins in maps to show
How to stop a plague or make it go;
And then they took me out in chains
When a secret shared had changed the game

But, all those days have fled somehow
And nothing occupies me now—
Except for this strange thought of you
Who sat before me back in school,
And trailed a rope of braided hair
Across the back rail of your chair
And learned to sign your name in air,
And read from lips –oh, I might’ve dared
To simply move my own so you
Could read please love me, and might have too

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INVISIBLE HOUR

I left the yard then came back in,
I drank up your bathtub gin—
And though I lived, it left me weak
But I raise myself back up to speak…
For it hit me hard, the mandolin
That cried just there inside your door—
And though it left me high and dry
I know too soon I’ll ask for more

Oh I’ve come back to plead and dance,
To forgive us both all in advance

Salt and sugar, tooth and nail,
Tongue and groove, and all for sale;
Thoughts and prayers, words and deeds,
Bruised and broken, spilling seeds—
Tar and feathers, clocks and spoons,
Falling shoes and flashing signs;
Fits and starts, and hearts and moons
That wane come either rain or shine

Oh I’ve come back to plead and dance,
To forgive us both all in advance

We all come into this world
Scared and bare, blue and curled—
We all bring the knife we need
To sate our mouths and not concede
The love that stands a moving bridge
Where blood moves under skin and bone—
To feel a hum and come alive
In bodies that are not our own.

Oh I’ve come back to plead and dance,
To forgive us both all in advance

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SWAYED

In a scene from better times
Your traitor hangs up right there next to mine.
The afternoon shakes down the trees
Like they owed it money –hey buddy, please:
Get in line—
Their promise of green fruit is gone,
It’s bruised out there on the lawn;
He who cannot be seduced cannot be saved…
I hang ready to be swayed

Our hunger to be new begins
But slips the yoke like it was a second skin;
It’s walking back the shadow moon
As if on a string,
A listing black balloon—
That turns its face and mounts the wall
To show a slower way to fall;
Oh, you hold me by a thread and fall away…
I stand hungry to be swayed

I’m torn to think this storm will rise,
Already it’s tattered my sail and thin disguise.
I ‘ve bent my song like broken words
Could call to me your whirling,
Skittish birds—
I write to you, Dear stranger mine…
But stranger still, the hand of time
Has laid its ragged coat across our way…
I lie ready to be swayed

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PLAINSPEAK

A blind man looks out through your eye,
He hears the color of your sigh;
Tastes a laugh upon your thigh, then roars—
Oh, let’s be clear, my sighing balladeer:
I want nothing more than
You to hear me now

There’s red iron in the sliding clay,
It stains our knees and turns away
The blood-lusty angels looking to rumble in town—
Oh, let me be clear, my sliding bombardier:
I want nothing more than
You to find me now

Here’s how I’m leaning, word for word,
No matter what you think you’ve heard:
When I say, “bird,” I mean a bird, no less and not more—
Oh, let it be clear, my leaning auctioneer:
I want nothing more than
You to raise me now

I’m thirsting after righteous gloom
With daylight streaming in this room;
And the loss of love one day soon may bear me out and away—
But let’s be clear, my streaming volunteer:
I want nothing more than
You to see me now

But let’s be clear, my streaming volunteer:
I want nothing more than
You to hear me now

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LEAD ME ON

The day draws a shade
Pulls the thread of your frayed lace undone,
It falls like the evenings
That charm then devour their young—
The face of the moon
On the river will shiver and run,
From belief to surrender
And I want you to lead me on

The quiet of midnight
Is bright and it sounds an alarm
As men from the county line
Get down and take up their arms—
No one you can name
Is just that one thing they have shown,
You speak from the shadows
And I want you to lead me on

The deep valley falls and it
Rises with blood in its eyes.
The sharp mountain crawls into clouds,
Wears a blade-thin disguise—
The hour is hung on a ladder rung
Cut from my bone—
You move high above me
And I want you to move me on…

This is my body-
Already broken for thee,
The black coal at my soul not a diamond
But cracked open and free—
The dark rushing river sweeps
Pushing away and along,
Like light through the pines
And I want you to lead me on

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ALICE

There’s a train already come,
There’s a train already come,
Her hands are birds, her heart a drum—
Lo these many years

There’s a horse upon a yard,
There’s a horse upon a yard,
The blooms are sweet, the stems are hard—
Lo these many years

There’s a kiss nobody saw
By the bridge, upon a wall.
There’s a house caught on with fire,
And news of him sent on a wire…

There’s a train now gone from view,
There’s a train now gone from view,
Her heart is still, her eyes are too—
Lo these many years

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EVERY SORROW

Safely in strong arms I lie now,
Torn, the flags, but still they fly now;
Memories of the cold Decembers
Trampled roses, cloves and embers—
Gone the shadows deep divisions
That trade on hopes with steep conditions…
After every sorrow comes a joy,
But every sorrow knows one more

Theives are cornered, smoking lanterns swing,
Threadbare shoulders rolling under wings—
Sliding from her arms, conforming
Darkest eyes to brightest morning,
Stealing back through woods and ditches,
Pulling out the crooked stitches…
After every sorrow comes a joy,
But every thief, he knows one more

I envy the sky its open arms,
Its hidden eye, its howling false alarms;
The way it moves above you trembling,
The day it breaks to pull you in, then
Curtain of its heart descending
Spiriting the sun its ending…
After every sorrow comes a joy,
But every howl hides one more
This may challenge all our senses,
Hold us tight within its fences—
But singing out, her gate stands open,
For all the world, so weak and broken,
A story giving all a framing,
A face that waits but for a naming…
After every sorrow comes a joy,
And every story knows one more

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WATER BETWEEN US

A holy ghost hangs in our trees
A cool eye watching over these,
And every perfect, crooked thing;
While every crooked dream
Imagines that it walks between
Straight arrow days…
Great water lies between us,
I’m bending at the knee—
Great water lies between us,
Great water gives my face right back to me

Words may all escape me now
And any song they do allow
Will pull the blinds and push me to the floor.
There are lost among the found
Who follow at the hollow sound
Of every shoe outside the door…
Great water lies between us,
A vain and reckless sea—
Great water lies between us,
Great water lies, but won’t lay down with me

The tongues have been cut from the bells
Lest they swing out loud and tell
How still we hide away.
Shadows whisper by like brooms,
Skirting halls to basement rooms;
They hunker low, waiting out the day…
Great water lies between us,
Great water moves below—
Great water lies between us,
Great water begs we both arise and go

Measured up against the air
Everything’s beyond compare;
We’ve never been what we are right now before—
Our victories are unconfirmed,
Beyond the pale of what we’ve learned;
But our empty hands are open as a door.
Great water lies between us,
The way it knows to do—
Great water lies between us,
Great water begs I walk across to you

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SLIDE

Oh, cursed morning—
Who told you to rise?
When time’s a sliding mask that may still
Roll back with our eyes.
Oh, blessed falling,
Crawling into night—
I’m learning more than I intended
Try not to though I might

No angels walk with me,
All angels ride—
I give up my ghost for thee
And we will forever slide

Oh, take my shoulders
And square them to the wind—
Go knock upon the mountain
To be let out or in.
Moving where someone else has wandered,
The dead trip into light—
We’re learning more than we intended
Try not to though we might

No angels walk with me,
All angels ride—
I give up my ghost for thee
And we will forever slide

We roll and tumble,
Rattle, shake, and hum—
We’re dying to be other
But we kill not to become.
Grief sides with glory,
They laugh deep into the night—
Learning more than they intended
Try not to though they might

No angels walk with me,
All angels ride—
I give up my ghost for thee
And we will forever slide

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Notes

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN

My new album that stands trembling upon your threshold, Invisible Hour, is my 13th as a solo artist. It represents plenty to me beyond sheer endurance; and though I feel myself continuing to evolve daily (as we all must), I nonetheless believe, if allowed, that this stands as a defining moment for me personally and as artist.

Mind you: I have always delivered what I believed to be my best work at any given juncture; but I sometimes recognize in retrospect inadvertent fault lines at the borders between the songs themselves and their articulation; between production concepts and the songs they mean only to serve. With this album, though —at least in this honeymoon period— I feel instead that the work all of us did in conjuring the music those four days late last summer has disappeared into the songs themselves, leaving behind no paint cans nor scaffolding; no baggage the songs were not themselves already carrying upon arrival. I mean that I hear in this final rendering, alas, no finality at all, but, rather, possibility —for liberation, for acceptance, for real-time revelation— as if the songs herein are inviting me into adventure as opposed to my simply securing them within a frame.

The songs lean into and out of folk tradition as pieces of writing, perhaps, and evidence my earliest loyalties; yet while that offered all of us a tonal bedrock, and suggested the steely rumble of acoustic instrumentation to be an appropriate point of demarcation, it also enforced mystery as a historic fact; and as such, every musician on the date sang and played less to earthly parameters and more to ghostly communion with discovery, with love in all its forms.

You will read in the album’s accompanying liner notes my suggestion that these are all, perhaps, “songs about marriage;” but I should hasten to add that that is a personal observance, and recognized much after the fact. That thread —of commitment, surrender, and hair-raising mystical alignment— does indeed snake through the whole in ways both overt and peripheral, literal and metaphoric. But though marriage as a notion moves like significant weather through its rooms, it is really the redemptive power of love in the face of fear upon which this house is built. Love is the story; and the characters paw lustfully after it –formal pairings notwithstanding.

These songs and this music sound alive to me just now, I really want to say: romantic, mortal, and singularly of a piece: ranging, though all cut from a single bolt of coarse cloth.

I am very proud of the work, and am thus, for the first time, releasing it myself (in partnership with my management on our own Work Song label), in recognition of the changing landscape and in the spirit of true ownership in every sense of that word.

Simply stated, it is my intention to be as bold and creative in taking the music out into the world as I tried to be in writing and recording it. Perhaps I am just at the point in my life, as a person and as an artist, where I understand that erecting a fence between the two was somebody else’s idea. And it has worn out its welcome.

Joe Henry

 

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