9 p.m. Oct. 23 at 930 Art Center, 930 Mary St. in Louisville. Free. (502) 635-2554. www.the930.org.
The cost of a road trip to Louisville will be your only expense for what might well be one of the regional concert highlights of the fall. Friday night at the ultra-intimate 930 Art Center is a rare concert evening with Joe Henry, Americana stylist-turned-avant-pop journeyman who doubles as one of today's most scholarly and insightful (and in-demand) record producers.
We first got a look at Henry the performer in the mid-'90s, when he performed in Lexington and Louisville as an opening act for bands including Son Volt. He already was starting to shed the Jayhawks-style alt-country leanings that underscored his albums, including 1992's Kindness of the World and the exceptional 1994 EP disc Fireman's Wedding. With turn-of-the-millenium albums Fuse (1999) and Scar (2001) — both essential recordings in the Henry catalog — the stylistic contours of his music began to warp. His three most recent albums — 2003's Tiny Voices, 2007's Civilians and the new Blood From Stars — take on almost Tom Waits-like abstractions that balance carnival-like playfulness and dark, noir-style pop accents.
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On Blood From Stars, which probably will be the focus of Friday night's free show in Louisville (part of the 930's opening of an exhibition of works by Cincinnati photographer Michael Wilson titled Whatever Happened to Martha?), such stylistic corrosion is detailed by way of the wiry guitars, stark percussion, jazzy dissonance and vocal animation that enhance the songs Death to the Storm, Suit on a Frame and The Man I Keep Hid. But the deconstructed orchestration of This Is My Favorite Cage might better reflect the solo acoustic setting that Henry will perform in Friday.
Henry has made just as much music with other artists as he has on his own over the past eight years or so. A devotee of vintage soul, he has produced recordings for Allen Toussaint (including this year's extraordinary The Bright Mississippi), Solomon Burke (the Grammy-winning Don't Give Up on Me) and Bettye LaVette (her comeback recording I've Got My Own Hell to Raise). He also has produced more pop- and folk-directed works for Loudon Wainwright III, Ani DiFranco, Teddy Thompson and Aimee Mann.
On his Web site, www.joehenrylovesyoumadly.com, Henry recently divulged two 82-year-old icons for whom he is currently producing albums: jazz-blues vocalist/pianist Mose Allison and calypso great Harry Belafonte.
No tickets are required for the Louisville performance. Seating is general admission. The Wilson exhibit begins at 7 p.m.
Digging in the Dirt
The ageless Nitty Gritty Dirt Band is back in Lexington as the lone guest at Monday's taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 East Main Street. Jimmy Ibbotson has left the lineup again (he departed initially in 1977), but principal members Jimmie Fadden, Jeff Hanna, John McEuen and Bob Carpenter are still on board.
Their new album, Speed of Life, is ripe with the folk, pop and country charm that has long distinguished such champion Dirt Band recordings as Uncle Charlie and his Dog Teddy (1970), the first of the three Will the Circle Be Unbroken roots-music summits (1972) and the way-underrated Dream (1975).
Slick in spots, although nowhere near so as the band's country-pop fare of the '80s, Speed of Life abounds with highlights. Among them: the back-porch reinvention of the Canned Heat classic Going Up the Country, the misty McEuen banjo interlude Lost in the Pines, and the blues-triggered ode to a bluegrass legend in Jimmy Martin. (7 p.m. $20. For ticket information and reservations, call (859) 252-8888. www.woodsongs.com.)