Josh Ritter – The Gathering
Cooking Vinyl Records
By Kevin Nelson
Josh Ritter’s ninth studio album, The Gathering, could be described as a gathering (…,sorry) of the singer-songwriter’s numerous signature stylings.
There’s the “Getting Ready to Get Down”-style crowd-pleaser of “Cry Softly,” the sadly optimistic tone of “Train Go By,” and Ritter’s awesome preach-singing in “Dreams,” which could serve as a companion piece to creepy, yet somehow anthemic “Rattling Locks” off of So Runs the World Away. (Side note here: I’ve always been impressed that despite being an amazing album, So Run’ was actually the third best album released on May 4, 2010, behind New Pornographers’ Together and The Hold Steady’s Heaven is Whenever).
These familiar references make it seem like Ritter is setting up for an unofficial greatest hits setup. It also sadly makes it seem like the Idaho native isn’t going to bring anything new to the table. But then there’s “Friendamine,” a track that sticks out as a bizarre, quirky, but altogether fun song that shouldn’t seem at home within these track that just bleed vintage Josh Ritter. It’s as if Josh set out to make a distinctly non-Ritter song, but the simple fact that he is Josh Ritter makes the song feel right at home. (Plus, “Friendamine” references birds—which Ritter does a surprising amount in his catalog (“Birds of the Meadow,” “Hello Starling”)—allowing it to fit right into his collected works.))
Clocking in at a brisk sub-three minute mar,k the lyrically dense track has enough material for a song that’s twice as long, but the upbeat and insanely fast style speeds things up for an auditory assault.
When Sam Kassirer, Ritter’s longtime keyboard player Tweeted that he was busy programming his keyboards for the upcoming The Gathering tour, Ritter couldn’t help but chime in with “Good luck with Friendamine!” showing that even Ritter himself knows how much of a departure this is from his normal work.
“Friendamine” is the third track on Gathering (and, really, second after the humming introduction of “Shaker Love Song (Leah)),” providing excitement for a potential new Josh Ritter sound.
The fact that most of The Garthering still sounds like vintage Ritter isn’t a bad thing. After all, there’s a reason Ritter’s style elevated him to the top of the singer-songwriter community—it’s fun but willing to make deep psychological connections while masked in a the guise of pop folk. So there’s nothing wrong with going back to this well that suits him so well, though the exclusion of an otherworldly love song like “Temptation of Adam” or “The Curse” is a glaring miss when making comparisons to his prior work.
Then again, the promise shown in “Friendamine” hints at even more fun down the road, especially when he lives up to the above tweet and tears into the song when he plays it at the Neptune on January 25. It’ll be fun to see the whole band try to tackle this insane track. We’ll see just what Josh, Sam and the giant, mustachioed Zachariah Hickman have up their sleeves to make this a rocking live piece.