The Upshot: Much-loved and –respected singer-songwriter hits his stride anew with an invigorating, intimate effort that just might push him to the next level.
BY LEE ZIMMERMAN
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. Still, if in fact it’s been merely a matter of time, then both hands of the clock ought to be pretty nearly standing straight up with this.
That said, Sermon on the Rocks begins on an unusually ominous note with “Birds of the Meadow,” a densely layered diatribe that belies Ritter’s mostly upbeat tone. No wonder, then, that with the exception of the melancholic and mournful “The Stone” and the darker designs that attend to “My Man On A Horse (Is Here)” — both of which make their appearances much later on in the album, that jubilant wallop is mostly in evidence throughout. “Young Moses” dashes ahead at practically a gallop, a decidedly different change of pace from the laborious opener that preceded it. “Henrietta, Indiana” is equally effusive, its kinetic energy making it both compelling and convincing. Still, if one were pressed to name the most invigorating offering overall, that choice would have to be “Cumberland,” a rousing and solidly sturdy slab of pure unabashed exuberance, complete with handclaps and an irresistible enticement to sing along. “Home Coming” comes in narrowly behind it, thanks in large part to a continuous thumping rhythm that builds steadily to an ultimate peak. It’s mesmerizing to say the least.
The diversity of sound and Ritter’s ability to pull his listeners in are what make his music, in general (and this album in particular), sound so effortless and effective. Consequently, Sermon on the Rocks should speak to anyone with an ear for melody and an appreciation for a commanding, compelling delivery. Whether or not this broadens Ritter’s reach remains to be seen, but even if it falls short, be assured that it’s still excellent regardless.
DOWNLOAD: “Cumberland,” “Home Coming,” “Henrietta, Indiana”