Take a look at the song list on the back of Ritt Henn’s Timber, and you’ll see some pretty preposterous song ideas. “Superman is Sleeping In?” “Range Rover (Through the Mud Called Love)?” “Rapunzel (I’ve Got All I Need)?” Not very promising. Sounds like a lot of overreaching metaphors and strained allusions.
But a few seconds into the opening track, “Helen Keller and Me,” Henn is singing about cutting down trees in the middle of the woods with Keller in a warm, Frank Zappa-like baritone. Curious. Where could he be going with this? By the time he gets to the inspirational chorus, complete with gospel chorus, “If I raise my voice, will my song be heard,” it’s hard not to get hooked. Like John Hiatt and Randy Newman, Henn has a talent for taking an off-the-wall subject and creating a coherent, intriguing narrative with a sense of humor. Even more amazing, where many rely on sarcasm or cynicism for an edge, many of Henn’s songs are optimistic, even joyful. And he never seems Pollyannaish. “Go That Mile for You” could easily have been insufferably mawkish, but Henn picks the right random acts of kindness, from a mother’s dedication to her son to a waitress slipping a hungry patron a piece of pie after hours, to detail. They are all small moments, but taken together, they form a strong, hopeful picture of humanity.
Henn is also a more than capable bass player, and his upright drives many of the arrangements on Timber. He’s tasteful — no wasted notes or flashy runs — and versatile, comfortably incorporating jazz, blues, and gospel. One rare occasions, Henn does stretch a bit too far — the central metaphor of “Maintenance” gets a bit redundant, but is saved by a good supporting arrangement and vocal performance. But if a guy can write a song called “Happy” without crapping rainbows, that’s a valuable talent.
Words By: Nick A. Zaino III[Rating: 3.5/5]