The Whole Truth

Joe Henry, who made some of his early records backed by members of country-rockers the Jayhawks, also grew up with Hall's songs. His musical vision may have moved beyond country, but he's taken Hall with him. "When I started to work on 'Homecoming,'" Henry says of his version of Hall's classic narrative, "I sampled a drum loop from N.W.A.'s 'Straight Outta Compton.' But nobody was comfortable with leaving that in there, wondering if Dr. Dre or Ice Cube would come looking for us at some point. So I completely recreated the loop -- a similar groove but without their screams in the background. Once I had to change the drum loop, I heard the song in a different way. The older version wasn't as fragmented as the new one. Initially I was treating sounds as if imagining a unified band, but that's not how I was hearing it a year later; that's not how I've been hearing anything lately. I prefer a fragmented approach. Even if there's a guitar player sitting there with me, I prefer it to sound like a sample I flew in, like found pieces, a collage."

The key, however, to Hall's narrative craft -- one that has, in Justin Bass' words, made him both an "international superstar and a complete unknown" -- rests in the balance between melancholy and humor, in finding the human truth where those emotions coexist. "Richard Pryor said anything that's really true is funny," Henry explains. "You laugh out of recognition. I laughed when I heard 'Homecoming' the first time because it was such a marvel of truth. Hall's songs are like Raymond Carver stories, the way he speaks in this dispassionate voice of things of great passion.

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