Joe Henry (Music)
Reviewing “Blood From Stars” is daunting because Joe Henry has already done so eloquently in a three-page essay included in the liner notes.
Henry’s a marvelous writer of song, too, and “Blood” rivals his best work. It laments a world where “the stars have gone astray,” “true revelation is a thug” and “reason is traded for rhyme.”
Such sentiments are attached to music that mitigates the gloom, the way the blues can. Henry borrows from that genre and jazz as well. A Grammy-winning producer, he throws in clangs, crashes, squeals and other spasms of odd noise.
Helping Henry pull it altogether is an excellent supporting cast that includes guitarist Marc Ribot, drummer Jay Bellerose, jazz pianist Jason Moran and Henry’s 17-year-old son, Levon, a precocious saxophonist who shines on the instrumental “Over Her Shoulder.”
‘Exiles in the Garden’ (Books)
On the surface, Washington is a curious setting for a story that goes like this: A protagonist defined by his lack of ambition, forced to go on something like a journey through his regrets.
This is Washington! Ambitions overfloweth here, and regrets — while present in spades — aren’t something folks have the time or gumption to dwell on.
No matter. Ward Just makes the juxtaposition work well in “Exiles in the Garden,” his 16th novel: Alec is an up-and-coming photographer whose life becomes defined by his decision to turn down an assignment to southeast Asia. He sees his career, and eventually his marriage, wither.
Alec’s passivity is challenged, ironically, only by outsiders to Washington. Alec and his wife, Lucia, attend cocktail parties in the gardens of Georgetown where exiles from other countries share their bemusement and observations of America. Lucia, a Swiss-born woman of Czech ancestry, eventually leaves Alec for one of the salon participants.
Alec’s reckoning comes, not as his marriage crumbles, but in his encounters with Andre Duran, Lucia’s father. Lucia was told her father was dead, but Alec finds him at a Washington boarding house and discovers a man who is everything he is not.
Third Eye Blind (Music)
Following a six-year break between full lengths, alt rock veterans Third Eye Blind again walk a fine line between aggression and a deft pop sensibility on their latest, “Ursa Major.”
Frontman Stephan Jenkins still knows his way around a catchy hook (even those who hated the “do-do-dos” of 1997’s “Semi-Charmed Life” probably couldn’t get it out of their heads) but he never skimps on throwing down a hard riff or unleashing a scream to get his point across.
Jenkins’ lyrics juxtapose poetry with profanity, anger with longing and big world issues with the personal — drug and emotional abuse for example — and his emotive voice still boasts a hip-hop influenced cadence that makes for some fun and interesting wordplay.
Opening with the pulsating “Can You Take Me,” Jenkins wails, “Let’s start a riot me and you/cuz a riot’s overdue,” and on the world-weary single “Don’t Believe A Word” he laments that “We like thugs when they attack/And we like crime when it’s black on black.”