Josh Ritter: Sermon On The Rocks


Another Josh Ritter album, another home run. I’m wondering if this guy has the ability to put out crap.

He’s less Dylan and more Springsteen here, which I feel like I’ve said about one of his previous records, but without reviewing those, this feels the most Springsteenian. I count four songs where I’ve got Springsteen mentioned in my notes. “Young Moses,” “Henrietta, Indiana” (with a very strong “State Trooper” vibe), “Cumberland” (which has a hootenanny/kitchen/hollering thing going on reminiscent of Springsteen’s We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions album), and “A Big Enough Sky.”

The best song, and almost the Best Song Ever, is “Getting Ready To Get Down,” with a bit of a Footloose theme where the parents and pastor of a beautiful little girl do their best to keep her under wraps and on the Christian (read: abstinent) path, but, natch, are foiled by her effervescent “f you Ima dance and f some boys” attitude. But the music, god, it’s one of those infectious numbers whose rhythm keeps driving forward, making you dance lest you get run over by this hot, small town girl who’s tearing up the town sleeping with whoever she wants to and good god I haven’t been this gobsmacked by a woman’s sexuality since “Son Of A Preacher Man,” but this is almost better because it doesn’t involve a boy/man teaching her anything.

In fact, sex is a pretty common lyrical theme throughout the album. “Where The Night Goes” and “Homecoming” are two not-so-coded examples, and I feel like the titles of “Birds Of The Meadow” and “Lighthouse Fire” are pretty evocative, too. It’s this kind of youthful subject matter and concomitant energy that makes this a very different release from the last of his that I reviewed. That album was 2010’s So Runs The World Away, and I came away from that album loving it, but more in a reverential awe than anything, whereas my love for Sermon On The Rocks is in more of a jump up and down in the sun and hug life kind of way. Maybe appropriate given I had a newborn and lived in Seattle then and have an (almost) six-year-old and a four-year-old in my new home of San Diego.

It’s getting to the point with Josh Ritter that I kind of have to put the guy in my upper echelon of loved musicians. Which is kind of a scary prospect, given how severely so many of those have disappointed me over the years, even moreso given how much this make me think of The Boss. But hell, this guy just blows me away with every release, and in new and fun ways, too, so I think he’s pretty much earned it.

Mix: “Getting Ready To Get Down”
Really Like: “Henrietta, Indiana,” “Where The Night Goes”
“Birds Of The Meadow,” “Young Moses,” “Homecoming,” “The Stone,” “A Big Enough Sky,” “Lighthouse Fire”
Meh: “Seeing Me Round,” “Cumberland,” “My Man On A Horse (Is Here)”
Song Notes: After the jump

  1. Birds Of The Meadow –
  2. Young Moses – Springsteen
  3. Henrietta, Indiana – very “State Trooper” here lyrically, with a bond between a father and two brothers and that bond is that they’re bad, a little possessed by the devil, plus it’s set in Indiana and features a car going over a state line post-crime.
  4. Getting Ready To Get Down –
  5. Seeing Me Round –
  6. Where The Night Goes –
  7. Cumberland – hootenanny, starts with an almost soul singer kind of vocal intro
  8. Homecoming –
  9. The Stone –
  10. A Big Enough Sky – Springsteen in verses
  11. Lighthouse Fire –
  12. My Man On A Horse (Is Here) – very close to like

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