A former rock guitarist who now plays unplugged, Brian Henke performs some 300 dates a year, spreading the folk gospel to regional coffeehouses and participating in national competitions (he recently won a regional contest sponsored by Guitar
magazine and will be competing in the finals on May 20 in Boston). Henke spends his spare time out hiking through the woods, and that provided the inspiration for the instrumentals he released on his previous two records, 1997's Many Waters
and 1999's Love Song for Terra
. When he really gets going (like on Love Song
's "Anasazi: The Ancient Ones"), he plays with the vigor of the late Michael Hedges. But even Hedges knew that a guy playing acoustic guitar makes for dull listening, so he did the occasional cover (his version of Bob Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" is tremendous) and would sometimes play electric guitar.
On Force of Nature, Henke's rarely so adventurous. He continues to write and play in the same vein as Many Waters and Love Song. In the liner notes, he describes the inspirations for the songs, and it's what you might expect. "Conkles Hollow" is about Ohio's Hocking Hills region, "Ruins of Tulum" pays tribute to an ancient Mayan city, and "Big Sur" honors the oceanside community in Northern California near where Henke was born. If you're looking for a nice spot in the woods, Henke's liner notes can point you in the right direction; you've gotta admire a guy who can embrace life's simple pleasures. But with the exception of "Waterfalls" (which really mimics the sound of falling water) and the moody closer "The Joy of Being," Force of Nature is rather monotonous.