Prolific singer/songwriter Josh Ritter’s eighth full-length studio album is rife with religious imagery, starting with its title, Sermon on the Rocks. Yet the Idaho native, who found his creative voice while at Oberlin College in Ohio in the late 1990s, says that wasn’t necessarily planned.
“I oftentimes don’t know that stuff or notice that sort of stuff as it’s happening, because you’re writing songs separately and songs kind of just come, and by the time you’re done with one you’re not thinking about it when you’re writing the next,” Ritter told the Huffington Post when the album dropped last October. “Suddenly, I’ve finished and I had all these songs, and there’s like this ‘Sermon on the Mount’ or mountaintop vision or all those things, spooky reincarnations and stuff like that, all felt like kind of a crazier take on ‘Sermon on the Mount.’ ”
“Young Moses” is rollicking Folk Rock, propelled by ace Walkmen drummer Matt Barrick, the Rockabilly-infected guitar licks of Josh Kaufman and, of course, Ritter’s emotive voice and evocative lyrics: “I burned me through Ohio/I’ll find the appleseed that lives on lightning bugs/His mouth a-glow when he begins to preach.”
The mood-mixing “Henrietta, Indiana” features a torrent of words, the story of a guy with the “devil in his eye.” The equally wordy, acoustic-laced “Cumberland” sounds like something Paul Simon might have written for Graceland had it been about traversing the American Midwest instead of South Africa. There’s even a Simon-esque tone in Ritter’s voice, which is as versatile as ever throughout Sermon on the Rocks’ dozen detailed, widescreen songs.
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