Published Apr 30, 2019This is the tenth album from prolific American folk/roots songsmith Josh Ritter. His recent albums have been a touch uneven, or even a little disappointing, but he shakes things up here by recruiting good friend Jason Isbell as producer, and incorporating Isbell's band the 400 Unit to back him up.
Ritter has always surrounded himself with A-list players, and the 400 Unit certainly fit that category. A range of guitar tones, tempos and keyboard fills are employed judiciously, and Amanda Shires' fiddle playing at times evokes that of Scarlett Rivera's work with Bob Dylan.
The resulting sound is definitely more Americana roots-rock than the folk-rock-accented material that brought Ritter acclaim in the '00s. The extra guitar soloing found on cuts here like "Ground Don't Want Me" and "Old Black Magic" is well-executed, but Ritter's key assets remain his warm resonant voice and skill as a lyricist, and they are best showcased on gentler acoustic-focused tunes like "I Still Love You (Now And Then)."
His keen awareness of the troubled state of his nation is apparent here. "The Torch Committee" has a near-spoken-word approach suggestive of early Dylan and Leonard Cohen, as is the ominous tone of its wordy Orwellian narrative, while the powerful "All Some Kind Of Dream" hits home with lines like "I saw my country in the hungry eyes of a million refugees / Was there an hour when we took them in, or was it all some kind of dream?"
This album as a whole doesn't quite match the consistent glories of such earlier albums as Hello Starling and The Animal Years, but he remains an artist eminently worthy of attention. (Pytheas/Thirty Tigers)