The follow-up to 2017's loose and versatile Gathering, Fever Breaks sees the lauded Idaho-bred singer/songwriter teaming up with producer and Americana wunderkind Jason Isbell and delivering a taut ten-track set backed by Isbell and his formidable 400 Unit. Less prone to stylistic detours than previous outings, Fever Breaks is a straight-up band album, with Ritter and company administering some serious muscle on cuts like "Old Black Magic" and "Losing Battles," the latter of which gives off a distinct Crazy Horse vibe. Dylanesque opener "Ground Don't Want Me" takes a similar approach, but retains a modicum of heartland folksiness, bringing it more in line with Ritter's earlier works. Things take a more bucolic and less propulsive turn on "On the Water" and "I Still Love You (Now and Then)," the former a Springsteen-y, road trip-ready love song, and the latter a heartfelt, rear-view mirror ode to a love long gone. Ritter has always been a deft lyricist, and Fever Breaks is rife with both poetic ("I wanna lay down in a field of bone, but an angel guards the garden") and prudent ("There was a time when we were them, just as now they all are we") observations of the human condition. A trad-folk singer at heart, Ritter has no qualms about getting political, taking on holding pens filled with refugee children on the contrastingly sunny-sounding "All Some Kind of Dream," and caustic tribalism on the satirical "Torch Committee." Throughout, the 400 Unit, specifically Amanda Shires, who provides soaring harmonies and some truly emotive violin work, adds considerable sonic heft to the proceedings, and help to imbue Ritter's workmanlike folk-rock narratives with the kind of studio finesse that sometimes eludes him when left to his own devices.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger