Sermon On The Rocks, the latest album from singer/songwriter Josh Ritter, will be released on October 16th. It was announced this morning via Ritter’s social media and email newsletter, along with a new song “Getting Ready To Get Down.” It’s a bit different from most of Ritter’s music, and a LOT different from his previous record The Beast In Its Tracks. Recorded in New Orleans instead of the usual Great Northern Sound Society in Maine, it has a fun recklessness abandon to it that’s been missing on the last couple releases.
Upon first hearing the beat and the cadence with which the lyrics were being delivered, I wasn’t sure I liked the song. Seemed a bit like a Paul Simon ripoff. But the verse leading up to the bridge sold me, with call backs to older well-known songs (amazing “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” reference) and the line “Jesus hates your high school dances.”
Ritter always brings a great intelligence and oratory skill set to his music. This time it’s joined by a more pop-friendly mainstream sound. Could this be the one that puts him over the hump and into the ears of a wider audience? If so, it’s about freaking time! I already pre-ordered my copy of the deluxe vinyl (sorry, can’t afford the $500 Handwritten Lyrics bundle). If you like what you hear above, you should order one too!
I’ve always been a sucker for singer/songwriters. The ability to take a feeling or idea, put it down on paper and set it to music is a talent that many have. But like poker, it takes five minutes to learn and a lifetime to master. Some people, your Guthrie’s, Dylan’s, Springsteen’s, seem to have an innate ability to take a whole group of people’s frustrations or hopes and put them to song. That’s a great thing, but not necessarily the only criteria for me to consider you a master of the art form.
Pete Droge went a different direction. Instead of tackling the bigger issues of the world, he internalized. Broken hearts are a great place to start when you’re writing a song, and judging by the material on Droge’s first couple of records he must’ve gone through his share of messy relationships (or maybe just one REALLY messy one). He’s a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve and isn’t afraid to say the things that most of us worry will make us uncool. He’s a romantic in a world of cynics and naysayers, and I dig that about him. Like my favorite films protagonist (Jefferson Smith), he thinks that there is good in every person and that we can all contribute to making the world a better place.
Brendan O’Brian produced Droge’s first album, Necktie Second. O’Brian is famous for working with a lot of the Seattle grunge scene’s finest; as well as Red Hot Chili Peppers, Stone Temple Pilots, and Rage Against The Machine. Necktie is a far cry from Evil Empire to say the least. It’s a great credit to O’Brian that he allowed Droge to be so breezy and loose. It’s just a light folk/rock record that happens to hold some of the finest songwriting for which you could hope.
The lead track is probably the only one most of you have heard. “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself)” was used in the blockbuster megahit Dumb & Dumber to great effect. That song almost doesn’t even belong with the rest of these tracks. As great as it is, there isn’t anything else that sounds like that on Necktie. The closest we come is “Two-Stepping Monkey,” but even those similarities are few and far between.
At its heart, Necktie is about wanting to be with someone who has decided they’d rather not be with you anymore. It’s something that Droge comes back to often, unable to let go like his unheard partner. “Northernbound Train,” “So I Am Over You,” “Faith In You” all hit the theme pretty dead-on:
When I read to you baby from the book that you wrote
I got a choked up feeling in the back of my throat
Was it a love sick virus or the knot in my noose?
You say, your backpack’s heavy bitch set the bricks loose
“Hampton Inn Room 306″ is not only a great end to Necktie, but one of my favorite closers of any album. Brilliant in both its simplicity and execution. Sure he steals a bit from Lionel Richie, but who doesn’t? He’s singing a tune that conveys exactly what I imagine life on the road would be like: lonely, sad, terrifying.
I’m not calling to say I love you.
I’m not calling to say I care.
I’m not calling to say I want you here.
I think by now those things are clear to us both.
But I tell you every day, cuz it makes me feel better babe.
It’s a reminder that despite all the bad times, the sad times, the gloomy mad times if there’s love in your life everything will be alright.
O’Brian returned to produce Droge’s next album, 1996’s Find A Door. This time he played with his backing band The Sinners, which gave the whole record a little more heft. They took the songs a bit further out, especially tracks like “Dear Diane,” which sounds like a classic Petty track all reverby and fuzzed out.
The first couple songs are the weakest on the album, but from number 3 to 11 it’s pretty much all gold. Droge’s still singing about a lot of the same stuff, but with his band/friends behind him everything is a bit more upbeat.
“Brakeman” sounds a little like The Everly Brothers covering “Helter Skelter” in the best way possible. A bit rockabilly juke joint fun is just what you need in the middle of this album and Droge is happy to oblige. There’s some great guitar work on here from Peter Stroud (Sheryl Crow, Stevie Nicks) that kicks it up a notch.
Musically, Find A Door seems to be everything Necktie isn’t. If one of the concepts behind Necktie is “one man trying to make it on his own” then Door is a “Community rallying around its leader”-type story.
It’s weird how these albums compliment one another so well but seem so at odds at the same time. I suppose that’s a compliment to Droge’s ability to write songs that dig deep into his own desperation one minute and flip over to have some fun another.
It’s been almost 20 years since Find A Door, and Droge hasn’t done a whole lot that’s been commercially mainstream since then. One place you may recognize him is from the amazing Cameron Crowe film Almost Famous. Yeah. You know that scene where Kate Hudson is walking Patrick Fugit through the hotel and Jay Baruchel is talking about Zeppelin? When Fugit looks into that room and there’s a couple playing a folk song sitting across from one another? That’s Pete and his writing partner Elaine Summers singing “Small Time Blues!”Crazy, right?
He was also one-third of a band called The Thorns. It was him, Matthew Sweet, and Shawn Mullins. I know. The freakin’ “Lullaby” dude? But no. They were actually pretty good. Only put out one album in 2003, which you can find on Spotify. Kinda Jayhawks-y stuff, if you’re into that.
Despite the lack of hits, Droge is keeping busy. Some of his work was used for the interview show Off Camera with Sam Jones, he’s working on music with Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, and always recording with Elaine. They released The Droge and Summers Blend vol 2 last year.
Jamie Wyatt is a name you may or may not know. Pete produced a record she put out a number of years ago. She has a new one that came out in March that features a song co-written by Pete and he plays guitar on it as well.
These two records I’ve talked about here were pretty big for me. Seminal us a heavy term, but it would apply to my relationship with Pete Droge’s first two releases. I was too young to really appreciate seeing him live when I was 12 or so and he opened for Tom Petty. If only time travel existed so I could force myself to pay attention instead of staring up at that stupid disco ball.
Find Pete Droge here.
I don’t remember the last time a first listen gave me such drastic mood swings. Michael Rault‘s new record had me totally digging it one minute and actively hating it another. I haven’t been able to pin down exactly what it is that’s causing this. I can say that multiple listens help. Some songs are really catchy, while others have little to no appeal for me.
I like his songwriting, the way he sings, most of the music is great. I think there are parts that are overproduced, and that is where I tune out and get bored with Living Daylight .
Songs like “I Wanna Love You” that are more straight up rock n roll like Queen or the more R&B-influenced Springsteen tracks sound fantastic. If the whole album were like that, i would probably love it. Then there’s stuff like “Lost Something,” that I’d love to hear in a demo version. Without the sitar sound and affected vocals it might be a cool song. I wonder if it’s more stripped down in a live setting.
Michael is playing at Beat Kitchen later this week (the 24th of July) with Happyness, and I kinda want to check it out just to hear the songs in a more minimal state. I feel like the bones are there on all the tracks, they just embellished them a bit too much.
I don’t consider myself a “concert photographer.” I’m not touring with bands, doing album covers and press photos. And I’m sure as hell not making any money at it. I go to a lot of shows and write reviews that need photos, so I take them. If Kari is at the show, she’ll take them because she’s a much better photographer than I am. That said, I’m not horrible at documenting a concert, and I’ve learned how to make decent pictures look pretty good. I still stumble sometimes or put the wrong setting on the camera for what I’m doing, but more often than not I get at least a handful of useable material.
We both had photo passes to Pitchfork this year, so I got in there and made the best of it. The photo pits at festivals are a madhouse. They crowd 40 or 50 of you into an enclosed space and say “Ok you have the first three songs to get all the pictures you can.” It’s a free-for-all, but it can be fun. Especially if you get something good.
Below find my favorite photos from Pitchfork that I took (I’ll do another one later with Kari’s top pics so that the editing styles match up better)
Saw a lot of great sets this weekend, but some were better than others. The festival went all out on supporting local musicians, with two of the headlining acts based her in the Windy City. The gamble paid off, and the tenth anniversary crowd was the biggest the fest has ever seen. They also stepped up their hip-hop game once again, grabbing some of the hottest names in rap to counter the indie rock vibe you would associate with Pitchfork.
As easy as it is to get around Union Park, you can’t see it all. So this ranking is based solely on sets that I actually got to watch without leaving after a few songs to go take pictures at another stage.
10. The Julie Ruin (didn’t get close enough for a decent picture)
3. Run The Jewels
And the worst
(That’s it everyone else was good)
“I’m Back.” Those simple words lit up above the stage on a giant screen, announcing Chance The Rapper’s homecoming for an audience bigger than any I’ve seen at Pitchfork. The hometown boy delivered the goods, announcing “We’re gonna be playing some songs off my mixtape Acid Rap.” The audience went wild, as you might expect considering Chance is the city’s biggest prospect since Kanye moved out of town.
The show kicked off with dancers on the stage as a kind of prelude for what was to come. Chance came out like a lightning bolt binging on Red Bull. He ran from one side of the stage to the other, splashing water all over the photographers and front rows of people. You could tell from his frenzied pace and ear-to-ear smile that this show meant a lot to him.
Like Kendrick Lamar last year, Chance had a band backing him up complete with horns. The live sound suits him well, and his onstage persona has come a long way since I saw him open for Childish Gambino a few years ago.
The fans seemed pleased with what they got, a non-stop thrill ride of a set with very little respite. There were a few moments when Chance thanked the audience and gave a shout out to his mom, but nothing that really slowed his pace. He kept everyone engaged and excited to be here sharing this moment with him. A moment he said he wants to hold onto as he moves into the next stage of his life and career.