Tiny Voices

Joe Henry - Tiny Voices album cover

(2003) Anti–

“Joe Henry’s Tiny Voices is a record in which a sharp view of the world and confidential experience collide in a wonderful musical and sonic fabric that is entirely his own.”
— Elvis Costello


Songs


Lyrics

THIS AFTERNOON

On the afternoon
That the revolution began,
I was in a hotel pool with another kid
And an Australian business man.
And nothing there would make you say
After all this talk, today would be the day?
Nothing but an upset tray
Left by the pool
This afternoon

An orange cup was thrown
From an upstairs room,
A cherry bomb of giddy lust, I guess,
From a bride and groom.
And nothing there would make you say
After all this talk, today would be the day?
Nothing but an orange cup
From an upstairs room
This afternoon

I’ve spent every long summer
Just this way
Since my mother started making up their beds
And learning to look the other way.
So what’s one more drunk businessman
Coming on to me in the shallow end?
Nothing there would make you say
After all this talk, today would be the day?

Listen:
What’s another slogan mean
Scrolled across my TV screen?
What’s another bride and groom
Locked up in a fancy room?
What’s one more drunk businessman
Coming on to me in the shallow end
This afternoon?

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ANIMAL SKIN

I see in you an animal trace
That’s quick in your blood and deep in your face,
Mine has been tamed; I’m shamed to pretend
When I’m this close to your animal skin

I remember when love was something I craved
But I settled for less and the comfort it gave,
For living is hard when real love begins
And it leaves heavy lines on your animal skin

Oh, let your arms make a deep night for me
Enclosing my world so I cannot see,
I’ll rise with your breath and fall back again
Cause you bring me close to my animal skin
You bring me back to where I’d once been
When I’m this close to your animal skin

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TINY VOICES (Falling For You)

You wild beasts and you creeping things
Get down in your place,
Down with all the absolutes
And God’s awful grace.
Who wants to see this coming?
Who wants to think you do?
Better to be blind when I’m
Falling for you

Go and tell old Pharaoh
His time has come about,
His pretty houseboys laugh and sing
As they’re filing out.
They set fire behind them
I see it burning into view,
High upon the mountain where I’m
Falling for you

All manner of abandon
Is just the thing we need,
Get ready for the country, boys,
The town has gone to seed.
The telephone line is sagging
With word coming through:
Put your head between your knees, I’m
Falling for you

I can quit this anytime,
It’s just to help me sleep,
It stops the tiny voices
And strange hours that they keep.
Who wants to hear them bleating on,
And have to answer too?
Better to be dumb when I’m
Falling for you

So you ladies and you gentlemen–
Pull your bloomers on,
Swing up on the highest beam
And let the floods come on.
Who wants to be there wondering,
When the Wonders rage on through?
Better to say never when I’m
Falling for you

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SOLD

Please don’t speak another truth out loud
Whatever else you do,
I only want you keep me lost in your cloud
And I’ll do the same for you.
Don’t believe a single thing you’ve heard
Really, I’m as good as gold.
You don’t need to sell me with another word
I’m already sold

If I give in to your open arms
Then you can think the worst of me
For pulling out my weakness like a charm
And making sure you’d see.
Love, when it’s defeated, just remember–
Can still keep you in its hold.
No need now to tempt me with surrender
I’m already sold

What was that– A lonesome battle cry?
Sweeping in upon us from the rear?
Like a child, I hide my eyes
And think I’ve disappeared.
Mercy, hope, faith and love and treason
Are trump as long as darkness holds,
I don’t need to see the sun, there’s no reason–
I’m already sold

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DIRTY MAGAZINE

A cut-out picture of a sugar tart
With olive skin, a purple heart,
Concrete shoes, and it’s just the start
Of bigger things unseen.
Heroes of our glory days
Ride upon the hip-hoorays
Of hometown girls who’ve been displayed
In dirty magazines.

“And what am I supposed to do with you?”
Just tell me everything I’ve heard before
Like it was news

The miners strike, hold out for love
We bust their heads, push and shove,
By helmet light, we rise above
And say, “look out below!”
They’re such a grim, romantic crew,
Swear they won’t forget but do,
It leaves them free to cry anew
At every song we know.

“And what am I supposed to do with you?”
Just tell me everything I want to hear
Like it was true

Sometimes I wish that I was king
And held the end of every string,
The fear, the prize, the mortal sting
Of what will come of this.
For now I’ll let all chance unwind
To keep our secret hearts entwined,
And if I choose to see this as a sign
It surely is.

“And what am I supposed to do with you?”
Just tell me everything I’ve heard before
Like it was news

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FLAG

Take that noise out in the street,
This rubble out from under my feet.
No rest for the weary in here,
And make a fuss, you’re a volunteer.
These days, they lord above me
Growing mean as they grow shorter,
Like a flag on a closing border now?
Closing right behind you

In a crowd come off the hill,
Full of bloodlust and good will,
We carried pride above our heads
Like a flag we could cheer to wake the dead.
And when we could go no further,
And were drowning on a desert,
We raised our flag to follow the breath of God?
But it was blowing every which way

I loved you long before I knew
Love is something one decides to do.
My vanity and fear conspired belief
That love’s just a mirror for a thief.
So when you held me tight against you
And I mistook your heart for thunder,
And like a flag, hid behind and under you?
Who could blame me?

When you held me tight against you
I mistook your heart for thunder,
Like a flag, I hid behind it
Like a flag, I’m hiding under you

Now I hang my clothes out to dry
Like waves of surrender, they fly.
The whore of this world looks old and played
Still she peeks from the alley like a waiting bride’s
maid.
Laugh or bleed, as you need to
Who of us doesn’t know already?
Every flag flies like confetti now?

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LOVES YOU MADLY

The ground wants you back,
The ground wants you badly,
The ground wants you still
Like some lover, so madly.
It pulls at your feet,
Gets into your nose,
Onto your bed
And under your clothes,
Loves you madly
So madly,
Madly,
Loves you madly

The sun wants you deep
The sun has a need
To take you in then
Spit you out like a seed.
The sun has a plan
You know nothing about,
In the dark when the light
Of your heart has gone out,
Loves you madly?

This floor has a lean
It gives to the side,
Where marbles and water
Roll and collide.
In the fashion of something
You think couldn’t fall,
The floor tricks your step,
Throws you to the wall,
Loves you madly?

O, God loves a sinner
God loves a crook,
God loves you frail
And splayed out like a book.
God loves you bent
And weak at the knee,
When the lesser of you
Gets the better of me
Loves you madly?

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LIGHTHOUSE

Oh, my dear,
I’ve swallowed the moon,
And left it dark like a ring
Burned on a spoon.
But now all the stars
They fall around you,
And land at your feet
To light up the room

The sign of the times,
The rules of the road,
And our coat of arms all scream
That mercy gets old.
But your secret heart,
As still as a bloom,
Waits at the door
To light up the room

Your bed is a drift,
It’s come loose from the floor,
The dead float up like dreams
I push them back with my arm like an oar.
But your face is alive
Like a nickel cartoon,
Shown on the wall
To light up the room

The siren on top
Of the library wall,
The stairs that give way
At the end of the hall;
The pawnshop pavilion,
The newspaper saloon,
All burn in your wake
And light up the room

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WIDOWS OF THE REVOLUTION

What can I write home about?
The water’s cold, the pilot’s out.
I keep my children out of sight
And my man never came home last night

What will I learn to tell myself?
We’re supposed to want for nothing else;
Just show the world a stoic light
But my man never came home last night

This is what we make of this–
The walls all smell like blood and piss.
And every book that comes our way
We burn to keep the dogs away

We’ll tell this story later on
And tell of how it made us strong.
By then we’ll know that we were right
But my man never came home last night

What will I learn to tell myself?
We’re supposed to want for nothing else,
Just show the world a stoic light
But my man never came home last night

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LEANING

I can’t stay here in my room
I can’t hold my own against the heavy
Lean of your perfume;
That tries to keep your pillow down and low
Across my face
As if what lingers here of you could
Take my breath yet still be my saving grace
Lover, if you rise
Lover, if you go
Lover, if you rise
Lover, if you go

There are plenty who would just as soon settle
All their debt with blood,
Beneath a whoring moon that answers every
prayer for rain with flood;
And there will always be one more ready
Savior standing tall
Waving from the tower that looks from here
Like it will sway and fall
Lover, if you rise?

I’ve cut back your roses just to give myself a day
Free of vulgar beauties that I know
Will fade away;
The scene is like a circus chasing winners
Out of town,
Leaving here a wet street of mirror, and I won’t dare
Look down
Lover, if you rise?

In my room, things can change any hour
That I’m gone
Something will be on a shelf that I know I left
Scattered and undone;
One small thing will be gone, or will be moved just
so,
The smallest thing, after you, will be changed
I know, I know, I know
Lover, if you rise?

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FLESH AND BLOOD

Come sit beside me,
That’ll do for now
The night has come and left me
Just the light that you allow.
Come speak my name,
Fill my head with all such foolish dreams
My flesh and blood is no more real to me
Than what they seem

My love for you is burning
Like a spark along a fuse,
I feel your mark upon me now
As surely as the hand that leaves the bruise.
Life is for the living
And life comes hard for some,
While the rest of us, with flesh and blood,
Make it hard all on our own

All I ever wanted
Was the freedom to refuse,
Or something of my own to love enough
To hate to lose.
The fever in my brain is leaving
Smoke behind my eyes
When the part of me that wants to change
Fights the part of me that tries

Now, you see a golden light
Because I’ve turned a gold light on,
Sometimes, God knows, you’ve got to
Learn to shine your own.
I step out of darkness
And for a moment I’m only living by your kiss,
And just for now our flesh and blood
Is no more real than this

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YOUR SIDE OF MY WORLD

Thought that bell was in my dream,
All in my head,
Until the trucks were in the yard
And the fire was in my bed.
Oh, can you hear the ringing bell,
Telling time like time was to tell?
Can you see the smoke rise and curl
All the way from your side of my world?

Hush your talk, here comes the boss
Down off of his perch.
He walks the floor in cream-white shoes
Like we were piggin’ iron in church.
Oh, can you hear the furnace hum
Above the shouts and all the chewing gum?
Hear the union priest lead the factory choirgirls
Singing out to your side of my world?

I could dance when I was young
And I was pretty good,
I’d do all the tricks and such
But back then everybody could.
I should have seen how this would be,
But nothing’s true till I’ve seen it on TV.
Yet there you were, in your high heels and curls
Coming in as big as life, from your side of my world.

Let’s pretend we’ve never loved
Let’s pretend our hands are clean,
Free of all the spit and shine
And the smell of gasoline.
Cause here come the planes and the tambourines,
The funeral march, and the beauty queens,
The circus freaks selling lemonade
From the back of an open-air motorcade.
Here come the heart machines and the baby shoes,
The ship-to-shore relay of the sporting news,
That mail-order brides –fake tits and pearls
All making way from your side of my world

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© 2003 Joe Henry All rights reserved, do not reprint without permission


Liner Notes

THE CRIMINAL LIFE OF JOE HENRY

I only have so much time here. There is a chicken boiling on the stove and mouths to feed and, alas, I am the conduit between them. Some say that this is a sign of pure vanity: my belief that, without me, nothing would get done. But I’ve tested the theory. And if I don’t put a chicken on the table in the next hour no one in this house is going to eat, and there will surely be hell to pay. This doesn’t prove I’m not vain, I don’t suggest; only that I’ve come by it honestly. By the same token, the new album you now hold in your hands, Tiny Voices, is -if you’ll allow me- the chicken that, well, only I could deliver. For better or worse. Suitable for weddings and bar mitzvahs, it was lovingly prepared and fashioned with just you in mind.

This is my ninth album. (You can saw me in half and count the rings.) It is my first for Anti-/Epitaph Records, though I have been in deep with them for sometime now, as I produced Solomon Burke’s album Don’t Give Up On Me last year on their behalf. It’s nice work if you can get it, and Solomon and I even have matching Grammy trophies which would make handsome bookends, should hard times ever return and we are forced to share an apartment in, say, Echo Park. But back to my story: with a few exceptions, most all of the songs on Tiny Voices were written during a fairly short span of time. I tried to imagine the dramatic arc of a movie (one that would perhaps star Edward Norton or Wesley Snipes as yours truly), and then wrote songs accordingly. And can’t you just picture the scenes? Me at the start of the Cuban revolution; me in Biblical times; me at the circus, or me struggling beneath the flag of god-knows-what hopelessly misguided country? Yes, I’m quite sure you can see it, though it is all pure fiction. Such is the songwriter’s craft, and such is the sleight of hand that is our stock in trade. We sing the word “I,” you automatically picture The Singer out on the high seas, riding the dip and pitch of every verse that goes by. “Joe Henry owns a monkey!” some of you have even written in the past. You believe it and I love you for that. It gives me purpose and direction, and don’t think for a minute that I don’t appreciate it.

Here’s what you’ll need to know: Tiny Voices was recorded essentially “live” over a five-day period in December of 2002, at the old Sound Factory in the heart of Hollywood. For these sessions, I took the coward’s way out and hired only excellent musicians; ones with whom I could also enjoy a good meal. If you follow that simple rule, I find that the rest of the process generally takes care of itself. That, and I was very careful before hand not to record any elaborate demos that I would have to conquer or live to regret. I provided, as reference, only the most skeletal song facsimiles to those involved so that everything was a matter of mutual discovery. “Action!” I would yell, and things would start tumbling into (and out of) place. It is a very liberating way to work and songs surprise you at every turn. (Remember “The Crying Game?” Fair enough.) I assembled a band that had as its core Chris Bruce on guitar, Jennifer Condos on bass, and Jay Bellerose on drums and percussion. I had the luxury of two brilliant keyboard players sitting back-to-back in the room: David Palmer and Patrick Warren; and to this mix I added the great jazz clarinetist Don Byron and his frequent confederate Ron Miles on trumpet. The iconic drummer Jim Keltner dropped by one evening and sat with Jay at a single kit for the four-handed take of the song “Flag.” And finally, my old friend, the late Gregg Arreguin, made his last studio appearance as an already-ghostly presence on “Widows of the Revolution.” We sat with our knees touching as we played, he and I, and I swear he was levitating. But then there was something about Gregg’s person and his playing that was always beautifully…untethered. Ask anybody.

This record may sound wildly different than the ones I’ve made before it. It did to me, at first. But I am frequently amazed at how things that strike the ear as foreign and abstract to begin with, soon become familiar and orderly. Even inevitable. After Scar, (my release of 2001), this seemed the next logical step, as working with Ornette Coleman, Brad Mehldau and Marc Ribot on that record inspired, certainly, a continuing interest in a particular sonic philosophy. It has something to do with accepting chaos, and with favoring discovery over self-expression. Suffice it to say that it has never been my intention to try to make a “jazz record” (whatever that is), but I have found great purchase by inviting musicians with a jazz sensibility into my proverbial house and seeing where they place the furniture. In that regard, I am unoffendable and love the mystery involved. The world is big, after all, and I’ve been influenced by all of it: Edith Piaf and Leadbelly, Malcolm X and Dick Van Dyke. And I think I hear them all in here. I believe Don Byron also practices this afore mentioned unnamable philosophy, which is how he can pledge equal dedication to the music of both Stravinsky and Micky Katz, and why we rarely needed to discuss direction. (In fact the only direction I really gave any of the musicians before the first day of recording Tiny Voices was to watch Luis Bunuel’s “The Criminal Life of Archibald de la Cruz.”) There are many ways a song can take shape, and they can always be different. They need only to be, finally, a living thing unto themselves. Then you are free of them. I find this an easy enough idea to embrace, and strangely comforting in these truly interesting times.

Speaking of which, there is an ancient Chinese curse where this is what you wish upon your enemy: “may you live in interesting times.” What could be worse?! Not much, they seem to be saying. But I’m determined to make the best of it.

Joe Henry
Los Angeles, CA
6/03

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