Joe Henry, Madonna Collaborate

Scar, the new album by singer-songwriter Joe Henry, already has a hit on it. But it's not his.

Close listeners will note that Henry's song "Stop" is, in fact, Madonna's recent smash "Don't Tell Me" in a vastly different form. There's a connection here, of course; Madonna is Henry's sister-in-law, and his wife sent her the track — which Henry originally wrote for The Sopranos (it wasn't used) — thinking it would be something that might be good for Rocco's mom.

"I heard back from her almost immediately," Henry remembers. "She thought the lyric was great, but musically it didn't fit into where it was going. She said, 'I'd love to find a way to use this …' I didn't hear any more about it; then we got an e-mail at Christmas time, maybe Christmas Day, and at the end, almost as an aside, she wrote, 'Oh, by the way, I recorded your song. I think you'll really like it.' At that point, of course, I was wildly intrigued."

Henry does like "Don't Tell Me" — "It's the most soulful I've ever heard her sing," he says — though he chose to cast his version of the song in its original tango rhythm. And no matter what happens with his album, he's happy that Madonna was able to insure that the song was heard.

"It's been very flattering," he says. "A lot of people have told me it's the very favorite thing of hers she's ever done and that it's so unusual to hear words like that coming out of her mouth. That's from her listeners; I was surprised they pay that much attention to her lyrical content."

The collaboration of sorts is also a sign that Henry has become more comfortable with his relationship to Madonna. It was something he kept low-key at the beginning of his career, but Henry now says "I can't pretend it's not a part of my world, because it is," and he's definitely enjoying their musical relationship — which even goes beyond what the public has already heard.

"I think our interest in music is a lot closer now than I ever imagined it would be," says Henry, who's also jazzed about collaborating with a personal hero, saxophone legend Ornette Coleman, on Scar. "We're not far off the page at all as far as what we're trying to accomplish. She started taking guitar lessons and was borrowing Leadbelly and Lightinin' Hopkins records from me to learn to play 'Bourgeois Blues.' So I see a lot more connection than I used to in what we do."

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