Over the course of two decades, Josh Ritter has carved himself a place of some comfort within the crowded troubadour environs. "Gathering" is his 9th studio release to go along with numerous live sets and EPs, and follows the vibrant career-set that was 2015's "Sermon on the Rocks."
Ritter's approach to modern folk, the variety of which is firmly rooted in rock 'n' roll traditions, has never been more clearly defined as on "Gathering." Pulling influences from sacred sounds, pop, soul and R&B, Ritter has crafted a dynamic, 13-song collection.
Backed by his long-established and more-than-solid band of veterans dubbed the Royal City Band (Zach Hickman - basses, Wurlitzer; Sam Kassirer - keys and percussion; Josh Kaufman- guitar, synths; Ray Rizzo- drums, with everyone contributing vocals), Ritter's stunning vocal talents are enveloped in a bath of sounds concurrently infectious and challenging.
"Showboat" kicks off with a gentle and seemingly unremarkable pair of lines-"Every time it rains it pours; I pray it rains just a little more on me"-that leads the listener to a character study of a guy just trying to hold it together, "pretending he ain't sinking over her." In both spirit and sound, "Showboat" is a continuation of "Sermon on the Rocks," a full-bodied arrangement that echoes a natural jam amongst friends. Bob Weir shares "When Will I Be Changed" with Ritter, and their collaboration is appreciated. The erudite Mark Erelli is also credited with backing vocals.
When one encounters a Ritter album, one expects innocuous word play to be combined with profound judgements and declarations, and "Gathering" delivers. A master of coming into a situation from the side, Ritter's "Feels Like Lightning" features the memorable couplet, "Little rooster out on the front porch crowing, Here come the storm like a big rig rolling." Typically, as on "Friendamine" and "Dreams," Ritter sneaks more syllables into a verse than would seem proper, never detracting from the sound and vision he develops. Late set chestnuts "Cry Softly" and "Oh Lord (Part 3)" are demonstration that the album holds up across its 50-minute running time.
"Gathering" is also available as a limited edition double-CD package with a bonus disc of home recordings. These stripped-down 'demos' reveals the complexity and importance of arrangement, as the ultimate presentation of each song is merely implied; the intimacy of the songwriter's process is appreciably apparent.