Josh Ritter Sermon on the Rocks
Published Oct 14, 2015"Jesus hates your high school dances," jokes the ever-ebullient Josh Ritter on "Getting Ready To Get Down," a standout track on his eighth studio album.
It's the kind of line Ritter has always been able to drop into a run of poetic phrases: a sudden wink amid a flow of earnestness. Ritter's facility with language, and his unmatched ability to unite timeless melodies with a stream of complex ideas, is his signature. A precious few folksingers (because regardless of the rock, country and other Americana flourishes that show up from time to time on his records, a folksinger is what he is) have been able to hold this line so consistently. It's a list populated by names like Mitchell, Dylan, Van Zandt and (Greg) Brown — pretty heavy company.
Shame, then, that Ritter's elegant, insightful and often gorgeous songs are so frequently buried under layers of irritating studio arrangements. Running back several records now, Ritter and his band take his compositions and sap them of much of their intimacy, beauty and grace. It's subtraction by addition; too often, when they rock, they sound thin and tinny, and when they court country, they sound rushed and shrill.
But on songs like "Homecoming" (at least before the unnecessary outro), when the band sound restrained, Ritter's astonishing lyrics come to the fore. "Nights are getting colder now," he sings, "and the air's getting crisp. I first tasted the universe on a night like this. A box of wine, an alibi, and the hunger in her eyes, in a place where the tree of good and evil still resides." Simply gorgeous.
It will always be a pleasure to hear Ritter's songs, to spend some time in his warm, rich universe. But he needs a new band, badly. (Independent)