Josh Ritter "Gathering"

When you grow up in Moscow, Idaho, your daily inspirations are gleaned from the academic atmosphere of the University of Idaho, the small town culture of Main Street, and the natural beauty of the sparsely populated area. Josh Ritter’s music captures these influences, with erudite lyrics, bucolic imagery, and characters whose humanity is revealed in vulnerable moments. Even his music reflects his origin as it weaves folk and American rock and roll with threads of country western.

Ritter is a diligent and skillful songwriter who hones his songs to perfection. Small details, whether a perfectly placed instrument in an arrangement, or the revealing action of a character, make each song a story to be explored more than once. His emotional landscapes merge with those of the natural world. Lightning becomes a metaphor for the upheaval of love and pent up rainclouds suggest repressed emotions.

Last year Ritter contributed to Bob Weir’s Blue Mountain, an album that captured Weir’s early cowpoke days on the high range. Ritter’s songs embraced the wide-open plains, the endless sky, the untamed wind, and the physical and emotional solitude of the place. Several songs on Gathering transfer that atmosphere; “Feels Like Rain” features cantering rhythms provided by drum block and guitar. “Cry Softly” plays like an old country thumper. “Thunderbolt’s Goodnight” has the comfortable quality of a campfire song. Bob Weir and a slightly haggard-sounding acoustic guitar imbue “When Will I Be Changed” with an earthy ambience.

Occasionally Ritter cuts loose with a rocker’s tempo as on “Showboat,” but mostly he’s a folker. His ballads are sweet and full of beautiful words. “Dreams” is literally stuffed with more words than you’ll hear in more than several songs.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)