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This record is the product of a strange and interesting time. When I started writing Gathering, I felt tired of living in the shadow of my earlier self, my earlier work, but more than discouraged, I felt charged with the possibility and the freedom of cutting myself loose from my own and others expectations. I began with an exciting sense of dissatisfaction, and what emerged, as I began to find my voice, was a record full of storms. Some, like Feels Like Lightning or Friendamine, are physical storms. Others, like Dreams, are interior ones. Listening to these songs now, I hear uncertainty, mania, laughter and sadness, all vying for their place on the album. I was surprised by the new voice.
I have been writing records for almost twenty years now. Each one has been different from the last in subject and form, but with Gathering I feel I've found a new electric dissatisfaction, a new way to rejoice as the storm rolls in.
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None of this is to say that it isn't still a wonderful record. Ritter is among the finest lyricists in contemporary music, and although the busier instrumentation takes away some of the attention from that side of things, you'll still discover his endlessly quotable wit and insight throughout. On "Feels Like Lightning," Ritter quickly and casually spits out the brilliant, "And oh, my little heart's in trouble. Feels like it just might explode. Why do they call it love when it feels like lightning?" He can spin the quaint and common in a way that makes it feel both relatable and innovative. If you're the type of listener who prioritizes the literary value of an album, Gathering delivers as reliably as anything Ritter has ever put out.
Although there isn't necessarily a show-stopping track on the record, all of the songs are very good. "Showboat" is an appropriate segue from 2015's more upbeat Sermon on the Rocks, peppered with horns and driven by an excellent bass line. "When Will I Be Changed," which features former Grateful Dead member Bob Weir, is a bluesy and soulful success. "Dreams" steams like hot pavement and feels like Bob Dylan's darker moments. Ritter doesn't seem capable of writing a bad song, so even when he isn't offering earworms, there is plenty to love.
Gathering is well worth your time. It packages Josh Ritter's many influences--blues, rock, folk, jazz, country--in a way that embodies his energy and songwriting prowess. Fans will likely enjoy it as much as anything he's put out, but it also packs enough of a punch to please some newcomers to his music.