dinsdag 17 oktober 2017

Gathering. Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter is getting on in life. Having passed that mythical step of 40 years, he released his 9th album recently. And on this album he mildly rocks and mellows out with a couple of country songs. Something for everybody, but probably reflecting where he presently stands in life.

Josh Ritter came into my life with the album 'Hello Starling'. Especially with the odd one out song 'Man Burning At Both Ends', a song that travelled with me all through this continent on holidays. Then the old cassette player gave out, where the old car kept driving, and many older songs moved out of my life. Nothing Ritter released in the years that followed compared to this song, so I lost sight of his music until I received his previous album 'Sermon On The Rocks' in my digital mailbox. And yes, I liked it as you can read here, http://wonomagazine.blogspot.nl/2016/02/sermon-on-rocks-josh-ritter.html. I found an urgency in that album, that surprised me. 2017 Brings Gathering. Let's dive in.

Let me start with comparing the covers of the two albums. All bright colours and spattered paint on 'Sermon On The Rocks'. All paint and colours again for Gathering, but far from the exuberant ones as on the former. Is it a sign of what to expect musically?

Sounding from the intro 'Shaker Love Song (Leah)' I would say yes, but that feeling left me as soon as the horn splashed 'Showboat' takes over, not to speak of the song that follows 'Friendamine'. The driving pulse of that song does remind me of that fave song of the mid 00s, if less serious in flavour.

Johnny Cash is honoured with the 50s country rock of 'Feels Like Lightning', the kind of song Chris Isaak is quite familiar with as well. The pumping rhythm is adorned with intricate guitar playing, fast played little licks and a light sound is all it takes. Although I do have to mention the pleasant aahhs in the background as well to do right to 'Feels Like Lightning'.

By then it is totally clear that Josh Ritter presents songs with different styles on Gathering, which makes this record a pleasure to listen to. A country ballad like 'When Will I Be Changed' is infused with some gospel and soulful horns. When the older voice of Bob Weir enters, the whole gets something even more authentic, as if an older preacher sings for his congregation.

Gathering is not an unique album. All the styles on the album have been done before, sometimes better, which only stands to reason. What Gathering does is add a dozen plus one good songs to the whole of what went before. Where I not only notice that Gathering is diverse, but that I by now conclude that Josh Ritter has made himself totally over from what I heard circa 10 years ago.

The subtleness of 'Train Go By', the slow melody played on the acoustic guitar, the Hammond organ that adds a minimum of notes, the harmonies that weave themselves around the central voice of Josh Ritter. This is all done with imagination and a assuredness that comes with confidence, wisdom and knowledge. The same goes for 'Dreams', where strange things happen, like the piano eruptions. A song that could have been on a Steve Waitt album.

After that song Josh Ritter surprises me a few times more. In other words, after a few listening sessions I come to the conclusion that Gathering surpasses 'Sermon On The Rocks' in depth and that is an understatement, where the first listen gave me the opposite impression. Gathering has a level of depth that reflects the world in 2017. We seem to be doing very well, perhaps never better, but around us weird things are going on, inexplicable but also sort of unstoppable. Gathering seems to reflect all this and on the other hand is just an album containing fine, if very varied music ending with the oh so solemn 'Strangers'.

So returning to the painting. Yes, the cover totally covers the whole. Gathering is a serious album, solemn even at times. At the same time this album is one that deserves a beautiful cover, more beautiful than this one and less ominous, as it shows about all Josh Ritter is capable of in 2017. And that is a lot it seems.


You can listen to 'Showboat' here:


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