Premiere: ‘Lead Me On’ from Joe Henry’s ‘Invisible Hour’ album

For more than two decades, Joe Henry has worked with some of the most celebrated names in music, including Elvis Costello, T-Bone Burnett, Ornette Coleman, Jon Brion and Solomon Burke. His latest album, "Invisible Hour," is set for release on June 3.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Pop & Hiss is premiering “Lead Me On,” a track from Joe Henry’s forthcoming album “Invisible Hour,” his first studio collection in almost three years.

It’s an emotionally raw, folk-rooted ballad of romantic and spiritual yearning that reflects much of the album’s unfussy production.

“I went into making of this whole record with an ethos driven by my desire for real emotional clarity,” the singer, songwriter and much in-demand producer tells Pop & Hiss. “By that I should preface this by saying I’m aware that for some, my songwriting can be challenging — that’s been pointed out to me. I would never intentionally write something to be difficult. I always write to be true to whatever distinctive voice is my own. ...”


“ ‘Lead Me On,’ in particular, is one of the most stripped-down things on the album,” said Henry, who has worked as a producer with a broad swath of respected musicians, including jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, R&B-gospel singer Mavis Staples, blues rocker Bonnie Raitt and British rocker Elvis Costello. “I intended it to be sort of alarmingly stripped. I wanted it to sound as if I were face to face with anybody listening to it.”

The song, which features harmony vocals by Irish musician Lisa Hannigan, also has musical echoes of vintage folk-country music, and Henry reflects on some level the time he has spent in recent years with Kris Kristofferson.

“I have a memory of communicating by email with Kris’ wife, Lisa, and telling her, ‘I’m writing a song at this moment that sort of speaks to me in a way that Kris speaks, or has spoken to me historically,’ ” he said. “It has a romantic scene is in the foreground, but it stands to represent a wider view of living.

“I use the word ‘romantic’ in a broader sense, not just in terms of romantic love; but a lustful attitude about living is what romance is to me — even about the hardships, if that makes any sense.”

As Henry puts it in the album’s liner notes: “As much as anything, perhaps these are all songs about marriage -- marriage as a verb, not a noun: not a thing to be possessed but a habit of one’s being, the machinery and the mystery both sparking at the same mercurial fumes.”

“Invisible Hour” is set for release on June 3--the first for his own Work Song label--and it was recorded in relatively short order over 3 1/2 days at his South Pasadena home studio. He plans to tour upon its release and plans a special performance on June 21 at Largo at the Coronet for the hometown crowd with an early solo acoustic performance followed by a second show with a full ensemble supporting him.