Two years after 2013's The Beast in Its Tracks, the good news is Josh Ritter is feeling better about things. While The Beast in Its Tracks documented Ritter's often unsettled state of mind after the collapse of his marriage, 2015's Sermon on the Rocks is the sound of a man on the rebound, and while the album is hardly sunshine and cold beer throughout, these songs clearly reflect Ritter's tenacity and spirit rather than the damaged emotions that were front and center two years earlier. "Getting Ready to Get Down" finds Ritter offering a small-town girl some advice to forget Bible college and see a bit of the big bad world, and the tale is told with the swagger of a guy who wouldn't mind showing her a few things himself.
"I feel a change in the weather/I feel a change in me," Josh Ritter sings during a telling moment on his eighth album. Two years after Beast in its Tracks, his emotionally vulnerable breakup album, the singer-songwriter is back with an entirely new approach. Switching from sparse, folksy acoustic melodies to terse, percussive Eighties textures, and from personal confessions to vivid character sketches, Ritter's new record couldn't be any more different from his last.
"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.
By mainstream standards, Josh Ritter isn’t a major star yet, but one gets the feeling that he’s drawing awfully close. Several of his previous albums — Golden Age Of Radio, Hello Starling, The Animal Years, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter and So Runs the World Away — hinted at an imminent breakthrough, but while Ritter’s gained a devoted following over the years, that big breakthrough remains teasingly just out of reach. Consequently, it may be too much to hope that his latest effort, Sermon on the Rocks, succeeds where the others have yet to before.
Josh Ritter is having fun with religion on his eighth studio album, especially on Getting Ready To Get Down, a Mary Jane's Last Dance-referencing hoedown about a young woman undeterred in her quest for experience after being packed off to Bible school. Throughout the record, he drops references to the Tree Of Knowledge Of Good And Evil and various chapters in the Bible, usually with a lighthearted, irreverent twist. With Matt Barrick (the Walkmen) behind the kit and with help from producer Trina Shoemaker, Ritter's made a danceable album of popified contemporary honky-tonk, with hints of New Orleans (where the album was recorded), especially on Cajun-bluegrassy Cumberland, and some didgeridoo on the expansive Homecoming.
Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter is moving fast on his eighth album, but he never puts a foot wrong. The 12-track collection, produced by Trina Shoemaker over two weeks in New Orleans, is positively giddy with wordplay; Ritter skitters over nimble grooves laid down by Matt Barrick of the Walkmen on drums, bassist Zachariah Hickman, guitarist Josh Kaufman, and pianist Sam Kassirer. A series of vivid vignettes, “Sermon” is filled with the often woeful tales of small-town souls both lost and saved, and of those surrounding them in judgment.