Two years after 2013's The Beast in Its Tracks, the good news is Josh Ritter is feeling better about things. While The Beast in Its Tracks documented Ritter's often unsettled state of mind after the collapse of his marriage, 2015's Sermon on the Rocks is the sound of a man on the rebound, and while the album is hardly sunshine and cold beer throughout, these songs clearly reflect Ritter's tenacity and spirit rather than the damaged emotions that were front and center two years earlier. "Getting Ready to Get Down" finds Ritter offering a small-town girl some advice to forget Bible college and see a bit of the big bad world, and the tale is told with the swagger of a guy who wouldn't mind showing her a few things himself. And while "Where the Night Goes" and "Birds of the Meadow" can both be read as messages to a former love, they also speak with a confidence and wit that make it clear Ritter is on a fresh road and enjoying the ride (and "Lighthouse Fire" is a more passionate declaration of attraction for someone new on his radar). "Cumberland" is a number that shouts with the joy of new experiences, while "Homecoming" revels in the pleasures of the familiar, and if "Henrietta, Indiana" and "Seeing Me 'Round" make it clear Ritter hasn't lost touch with his serious side, they're both written with sincerity and compassion. Ritter's singing is as strong and expressive as his songwriting, and he and co-producer Trina Shoemaker have given the album a lively sound that suits the album's emotional palette. Sermon on the Rocks is an album where Josh Ritter allows himself to have some fun while showing that his skills as a songwriter have emerged unscathed after his divorce, and it suggests that his future is as bright as ever.
Sermon on the Rocks
(CD - Pytheas Recordings #CDPYTH 009)
Review by Mark Deming