I want to apologize for taking so long to select the "essay contest" winner of the Over The Rhine contest in February. I still would like to post the other few essays that were submitted, but here is the submission from JS Ritchie in Canada…
Joe Henry is, quite simply, my favourite artist. His music is like no other, and news of a pending Henry release, production or concert generates a feeling of anticipation that is difficult to describe to anyone who doesn't share my fascination with his talents.
I first heard Murder of Crows while working in a music store. I drove the rest of the staff nuts playing the tape over and over again. (It wasn't exactly suited for a suburban mall demographic, but I didn't care.) Shuffletown is another favourite – quiet, and smooth and an early sign of where he would wind up musically on his later albums. I still love these two albums even though I've read Joe doesn't care much for his early stuff now. Short Man's Room and Kindness of the World are good – I played them a lot in their day, but I don't listen to them much now. Somewhere around this time I got Talk of Heaven on CD. I wish I could say I like it, but it really is just a curiosity for me.
Then came a stream of albums that I still can't stop listening too. When Trampoline came out I was struck by Joe's transformation evidenced by songs like Bob & Ray, Ohio Air Show Plane Crash and Medicine. This was different, and better, than anything I'd heard from him before. Fuse fueled my passion – Joe was really onto something here as the pictures he painted with words and music just got richer and richer. And then…Scar. Wow. From the first notes of Richard Pryor… I was drawn in like no other album. Truly one of the Best. Albums. Ever. Tiny Voices had 'Sold' (probably my favourite Joe Henry song ever, although 'God Only Knows' comes close) and this album cemented his status with me. Civilians and Blood from Stars are masterpieces. What next? How can one artist continue this run of fantastic music? No, really, how? I can't think of another artist who just kept getting better and better with every album.
In addition to his own releases, there are the albums he has produced which have introduced me to so many other musicians that just never get played on the radio, and that's a shame because the music is brilliant.
Twice I have made 12-hour round-trip solo journeys from Canada to Ann Arbor to see Joe and his band. Each time my wife just shakes her head, but knows it is pointless to suggest the journey is excessive. I'm going, and nobody's gonna stop me.
I wish he was more popular that he is – he deserves to be heard by everyone – but there is a selfish part of me that enjoys keeping him to myself, like a treasure that is mine, and nobody else I know has one like it. His music is sincere, deep, and passionate, and I am thankful for every piece of music he has sent our way, either his own band's or those he has produced. That sounds effusive, I know, but I can think of no other artist that has affected me as deeply as Joe Henry.
JS Ritchie, Canada
Thanks to everyone else who entered – the other two winners were notified a few weeks ago.