For his tenth studio album Josh Ritter has teamed up with the currently red hot Jason Isbell and his 400 Unit on production and playing duties and delivered an album that will only do all of them a lot of good. This is an Americana wet dream become real! All the cards are on the table from the opening groove of ‘Ground Don’t Want Me’, Ritter’s spoken-sung poetic lyricism, muscular Isbell guitars, stentorian piano shapes, chiming solo, chorus laced with harmonies and all of this wrapped in one of those tunes you are sure you’ve heard before but know you haven’t.
‘Old Black Magic’ is even more propulsive with its driving undertow and echoes of Ritter’s early classic ‘Thin Blue Flame’ in the vocal delivery. After the opening couple of salvos the album mellows and diversifies, firstly putting Ritter’s narratives front and centre with splashes of colour from slide or tinkling piano on ‘On the Water’ and then following this with an aching post break up song ‘I Still Love You (Now and Then)’ – all acoustic guitar and accordion. Beautiful and melancholic.
The following track, ‘The Torch Committee’, vents Ritter’s disgust with the current state of the nation and its climate of fear and the persecution being driven by powers hiding behind the facades of respectability and their seemingly benign structures of protocol. This is a searing narrative that vocally again harks back to an earlier classic, ‘Wings’, and Ritter unwinds the desperate lyric supported by dark slide guitar and a positively haunting solo from Amanda Shires – the fiddle perhaps the unending screams of those prosecuted by a system they have no way of combating but have to live through. A standout track.
‘All Some Kind Of Dream’ is similarly political – a jaunty country song with lyrics that skewer US immigration policies. ‘Losing Battles‘ follows and is a bruising band number that has echoes of Crazy Horse at their most sublime. The album ends with a gorgeous ballad ‘Blazing Highway Home’ – classic guitar shapes and choruses.
With ‘Fever Breaks Out’ Ritter has produced the most consistent work of his career to date. This is a fabulous, angry, affecting, melody-laden piece of work from the very top drawer.