You can't help but wonder where Joe Henry's career would be right now if he weren't so well connected. Would he have been as prominent in the mid-90s alt-country movement if the Jayhawks hadn't agree to back him for a case of beer on Short Man's Room? Would his transition to eccentric Tom Waits-style, L.A.-based bedroom solo artist (with major label support) have been as smooth if he weren't Madonna's brother-in-law? Perhaps.
But Henry, fresh from co-producing the Knocked Up soundtrack, doesn't have an exceptional voice. It's croaky, with little range, and the piano- and acoustic-based music on Civilians (out Sept 11) is kept unobtrusive, serving his writerly lyrics well.
Considering his success as a producer (Ani DiFranco, Aimee Mann), including a Grammy for Solomon Burke's Don't Give Up On Me, his strengths lie behind the mixing board.