Hiram Ring – Breathe Deep

Hiram Ring - Breathe Deep

Hiram Ring - Breathe Deep

In a decade that has seen the steady rise of mellow acoustic-based rock, the summery grooves of folkies like Jack Johnson and Jason Mraz have brought an unbridled sense of freewheeling optimism back to popular music. Occasionally funky and almost always playful, the genre’s popularity continues to grow.

Enter Hiram Ring, a seasoned world traveler and devout Christian from Pennsylvania, who also happens to have an affinity for the same sort of whimsical coffeehouse folk that catapulted Jack and Jason to the top of the charts. One can only speculate what this man of 26 years absorbed in those years spent journeying to places like Ghana and Afghanistan, but the results on Ring’s debut record suggest that there’s no suffering or turmoil that can’t be at least neutralized a little bit through some inspirational six-string strumming and a dose of hopefulness. Like George Michael once told us (and sadly, Fred Durst too), “You gotta have faith.”

On Breathe Deep, Ring chronicles his extensive travels through a cycle of breezy pop tunes that, despite the obvious Christian undertones, manages to steer clear of the preachy rhetoric so typical of contemporary Christian music. Things begin on a decidedly anti-climactic note in “Go From Here,” where Ring’s mellifluous guitar playing provides the backdrop for a reflective story about feeling grounded in someone’s love when life is spinning out of control. Heavy on nature imagery (grass, moon, trees, and waves) and understated in its delivery, the track sounds more like a closer than an opener. “Play Switch” picks up the pace a bit, with an eclectic mix of percussion, dub bass, and melodic counterpoint courtesy of a trumpet. The whole thing is awash in sunny cheerfulness, with Ring being mindful of the better things to come as he sings, “I’m going up a-yonder to be with my Lord.”

With the presence of a djembe on “Chasing Shadows,” the listener is finally given some indication of the influence of African music on Ring. With slightly dissonant chord structures and bluesy harmonica wails that are given just a pinch of reverb, the song stands as one of the darkest on Breathe Deep. Elsewhere though, it’s more of the same folksy earnestness so aptly demonstrated on the first two tracks. Whether he’s tackling the guilt and burden of sin (“I Am Not A Thief”) or God’s incomprehensible omniscience (“Eternity”), there’s a heartwarming sincerity to be found in his fragile tenor and in the percussive beating of the guitar.

It is only in the album’s center that we find Ring truly stepping outside of his songwriting comfort zone. Sounding like a less-polished Harry Connick Jr. in lounge mode, Ring brings in a combo to perform the jazzy title track and monogamously named “One Girl For Me.” Both songs are rife with lyrical clichés (“There is one girl for me, and I know it will be you, my love”), but it is refreshing to hear Ring testing out some ideas that go beyond the borders of contemporary folk; “Breathe Deep” even features some improvised miniature solos for the piano and drums.

If you feel like your life is in the doldrums, Hiram Ring’s music can probably help dig you out. The chord progressions and strumming patterns may become trite after a couple of listens, but there’s no doubting the sincerity of the guy’s delivery. His music, like his faith, is all about finding and embracing the light that can come out of dark places. And in our current economic climate, who wouldn’t like to join him, even if just for a few minutes?