Album Review: Josh Ritter – Sermon On The Rocks



There was always a tender, gentle singer/songwriter aura in Moscow, Idaho native Josh Ritter’s music. Fans could only expect this from a Neuroscience-turned-self-created “American History through Narrative Folk Music” major. As an acoustic songwriting master – who knows four chords is all it takes –Ritter’s craft continues to mesmerize fans with vivid, penetrable lyrics and all-star fingerpicking. But his upbeat, typical folkie picking pattern capoed up a key or three, with subtle backing from percussion and other instruments seemed too traditional for the latest record. He told Paste Magazine that he was aiming for “messianic oracular honky-tonk” for Sermon On The Rocks. And the result has surely enlivened the spirits of the old folk messiahs who gave birth to such a rich, colorful sound.

From the very first note of this album listeners will notice the massive musical invigoration Ritter decided to spice up on this record. In a gravely, Bob Dylan esque vocal style Ritter croaks out the lyrics to Birds Of A Meadow, a mellow toned song with a heavy rock drumbeat and electrifying keyboard effects. Listeners will lace up their dance shoes and begin to boogie when they hear the second track Young Moses. With a thumping bass groove and a powerful rock voice this tune stands out as one of my favorites on the record.

Ritter provides a toned down break from the vibrant, rockier songs with the third song, Henrietta, Indiana. With a soothing keyboard solo, this track provides a nice dance rest for fans that need to revive their legs from the first two songs. He picks up right where he left off and the energy rises for Getting Ready To Get Down, a song dominated by Tom Petty esque guitar licks and fast paced lyrics that barely leave Ritter room to breathe. I remember hearing this song solo, acoustic when he opened for Damien Rice in Brooklyn, NY earlier this summer and now the full band studio product has turned me into a Ritter fanatic.

When Paste Magazine leaked Where The Night Goes – the most memorable, perfectly performed and studio produced Ritter song in his entire catalogue – he gave them some insight on the inspiration of the song. “I remember fall nights at the football game, the wheat fields freshly shorn, their stubble burning, filling the autumn air with harvest dust, sweet smoke, and the light of the red-orange ball that was the rising moon.” The reverberating piano chords in the first few seconds of the song mirror the bright lights that gleam over this football field he’s talking about. “To think of nights like that is to let the moonlight in, half-bright like my memories of those times. Maybe there was never a night like that. Maybe there was. It was in my head though, like a dream I’d only just remembered. And when I remembered it, I had to write about it.”

Tracks seven, eight and ten are the last three highlights of this record, from the folksy foot-stomping, country swingin’ Cumberland to the piano dominated, classic rock beat driving Homecoming to the upbeat, honky-tonk distorted guitar riffs of A Big Enough Sky, Ritter takes his listeners where the sweet water is and creates an atmosphere of the purest air. Even a month and half later this record is still blazing hot. “Fire is comin’ fire is comin’…”

By Scott J. Herman


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