Marissa Hank ‘20
Josh Ritter along with his bandmates, the Royal City Band, performed at Calvin Theater in downtown Northampton on last Saturday. This performance was the second stop on his U.S. and European tour to promote his new album “Gathering.”
Released on Sept. 22, “Gathering” is Ritter’s ninth full-length studio release and features a guest appearance by Bob Weir. Critics claim that Josh Ritter’s acclaimed 20-year career as a songwriter and musician reaches new heights with the release of this recent album.
Ritter wrote of his new album on Twitter, “I’m very proud to announce my new record ‘Gathering.’ It’s a record of joy and sadness and laughter and lightning.”
While every Josh Ritter album has been rooted in American folk traditions, none have stitched together quite as many musical threads as “Gathering.” According to Slant Magazine, the album includes “shaker hymns and campfire songs, spirituals and railroad rambles, country-western tunes and delicate waltzes, all combined into a deep and colorful tapestry.”
“Gathering,” opening with “Shaker Love Song” and closing with “Strangers,” is comprised of 13 songs.
Even though “Gathering” is rooted in the past, it never sounds dull or old-fashioned. Ritter is mindful of folk forms but never constrained by them, using traditional structures as jumping-off points for some of his richest writing and scruffiest performances to date.
Ritter has not sounded this lively since his 2007 release of “The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter.” Ritter’s 2007 album basked in the glow of new love, while “Gathering” possesses an undercurrent of loss beneath its seemingly more upbeat mood.
These are songs of experience, weathered yet determined to be optimistic. “Showboat” best captures “Gathering’s” chastened spirit. This song finds Ritter riding a soulful groove with funny lyrics that also have bite – a sense of pain that’s all too lived-in and real.
If “Showboat” suggests there’s a wounded soul behind the album’s vigor, “Cry Softly” makes it clear this is also an album about moving on and letting go. Ritter sings, “It’s good to see you back here, but I’m on to greener pastures. And if you’re gonna cry, cry softly.” Here Ritter seems less interested in lament.
Written and performed with the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, “When Will I Be Changed” longs for redemption, a plea for change. This emotional ballad is the album’s most introspective moment.
Ritter looks deeper than love and loss to the core of his own tattered humanity – hoping to see it transformed. The track’s church organ and religious language root it in the gospel tradition; however, Ritter’s not interested in folk music for its own sake.
As Slant Magazine wrote, “Tradition is the canvas on which he displays his own vision, deeply personal and emotionally direct.”
“Gathering,” as a whole, is an exploration of joy, sorrow and their strange intermingling. This album is proof enough that Ritter is one of the true stewards of the American folk lineage – a proud traditionalist, as well as an original musician.
Even if you missed Josh Ritter’s Northampton performance, “Gathering” is available for streaming on Spotify and for purchase on iTunes and Amazon. Listening to this beautifully-crafted masterpiece is a necessity for this autumnal season.