Josh Ritter, Sermon on the Rocks. Alternate title: Words ‘n’ Grooves. The ever-ornate and endearingly loquacious Ritter returns to the raucous, ragged beat of Historical Consequences—still my favorite of his records, and one I’d long presumed to be anomalous within his catalog—for a wild and wooly rebound from the sparse, desolate Beast in its Tracks. The first two songs both lock into ramshackle funk before monetarily drifting out of, then back into, their established grooves—annoying shifts that speak to Ritter’s tendency to overcomplicate things, but also to how seductive said grooves actually are. In addition to jagged guitars and honky tonk keyboards, most songs sound like they have at least two percussion players; “Cumberland” is propelled by congas, “Where the Night Goes” anointed with E-Street piano. “Seeing Me ‘Round,” the fifth track on the album, is the first time things settle down, and the only time things resemble the last record. Ritter practically raps his delivery on some songs, especially “Getting Ready to Get Down,” which is fitting for a set of songs that somehow get away with being incredibly dense and wordy, blurs of images that simulate the dizzying effect of mid-60s Dylan, had mid-60s Dylan been obsessed with the language of the Bible not so much as signifier of truth but as cultural shorthand. At first I thought the words flew too fast and furious—but the forward momentum here is undeniable, the energy crackles, and the words have are affecting even without you taking the time to decipher them.
Guy Garvey, Courting the Squall. Theory: Garvey provides Elbow with its soulfulness and its ongoing fascination with sound and color; his bandmates bring the energy. His first solo album moves through thunderous percussion, peppy horns, a waking dream called “Unwind” and an old-timey duet with Jolie Holland—but with a uniformly stately pace and Garvey’s sensitive emoting, never seems to go very far at all.
The Dead Weather, Dodge and Burn. Proof enough that sleaze can be seductive—even sexy; and, that there are still new riffs to be written.