For his latest release called Fever Breaks, the singer/songwriter Josh Ritter enlists the big guns on the talent front. From an Americana and contemporary folk perspective where Ritter’s music has always resided, it doesn’t get much bigger than Jason Isbell who produced Fever Breaks and his mighty band The 400 Unit who back Ritter on this recording. To put it lightly, it packs a punch. It is in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week along with the latest album from country-leaning singer/songwriter Caroline Spence called Mint Condition. Her third longplayer overall, it marks her debut for venerable roots indie Rounder Records. Let’s take a look.
For his latest album called Fever Breaks, singer/songwriter Josh Ritter enlisted the services of Americana star power in having Jason Isbell produce and perform along with Isbell’s 400 Unit band. A folkie of sorts back in his early days, Ritter’s music has moved in a more contemporary direction with glimmers of pop on his last few records. On the new Fever Breaks which is his 10th album overall, the addition of Isbell and his 400 Unit adds some serious wallop to Ritter’s songs and sound. Case in point lead single “Old Black Magic” which seems to steal a little from the classic song “Black Betty” on which Ritter revs up the vocals with some searing accompaniment to give it quite the sonic jolt. It’s a keeper, for sure, and sets the tone for much of Fever Breaks. Ritter’s songs have often been more like little stories with central characters and Fever Breaks is no exception. There’s the outlaw type who inhabits lead-off track “Ground Don’t Want Me” and the protagonist of “All Some Kind of Dream” who sees what’s happening in this country wondering if it’s just some kind of bad dream. The songs and stories take on a bleak tone for much of the album with Ritter’s writing keying off current times, yet by album’s end and the bookend closers “A New Man” and the beautiful “Blazing Highway Home,” we do begin to see some light and feel a sense of hopefulness. Isbell, not to mention his wife Amanda Shires who both plays in the 400 Unit and has her own recording career, was as much a collaborator as he was the producer for Fever Breaks. He and Shires spent time with Ritter swapping ideas about his songs to help to shape and craft them and the overall sound. It certainly pays extra dividends on Fever Breaks. Visit www.joshritter.com.
Some singers do it with raw vocal power while others opt for finesse and sensitivity in their approach. On her third full-length album titled Mint Condition, the singer/songwriter Caroline Spence goes for the latter. On it, what the hazy-voiced singer may lack in histrionics is more than made up for in the emotion and expression of her singing style, and with her most definite state of grace in her approach to a song. As her performance on Mint Condition clearly demonstrates, it’s an invaluable quality to her art. The songs, all written by Spence except for one co-write, are rich in detail with most all originating from first-hand experiences. For Spence, songwriting is a process of sorts. It can help heal wounds, come to grips with the various hands that life has dealt you, or to just ask questions. She does that so artfully on numbers like the bittersweet beauty that is the title track (featuring one of Spence’s heroes, Emmylou Harris, contributing harmony vocals) which closes the album, the rather muscular sonics of “Long Haul” on which she tackles the travails of a touring performer such as herself, and the emotional tug and pull of “Sit Here and Love Me.” They are just a few of what is an album’s worth of standouts. Mint Condition may not be a record that will knock you off your feet on first listen (or, maybe it will). It’s a record that sinks its teeth in slowly and in a nuanced way and that is Spence’s magic. Recommended. Visit www.carolinespencemusic.com.
Fans of music of the Canadian Maritime provinces and British Isles should make tracks for Diamond Hill State Park located on Route 114 in Cumberland this Saturday for the annual Blackstone River Theater Summer Solstice Festival. The event will feature music, dance, food, and crafts with multiple stages in operation. Scheduled to perform are Atwater-Donnelly Trio, The Hanneke Cassel Band, Kevin Crawford, Cillian Vallely & Patrick Doocey (from the group Lunasa), Eastern Medicine Singers, The Gnomes, HighTime (from Ireland), La Croisée D’Antan (from Quebec), Bonnie Milner, Dan Milner, Partington & Sweeney, Roscommon Soles featuring Kevin Doyle with Sheila Falls, Josh Kane, Owen Marshall, Torrin Ryan, and The Vox Hunters. There will also be a Session tent run by Bob Drouin and dedicated stage for Irish step dance featuring Tir Na Nog Irish Dance. The event runs from 11 am to 7 pm, rain or shine.
At Chan’s Restaurant in Woonsocket (267 Main Street) this weekend, Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials are guaranteed to tear it up on Friday night in pure Chicago blues-rockin’ fashion starting at 8 pm. It’s homecoming night for former local hero Sarah Potenza on Saturday as she celebrates the release of her new album called “Road To Rome” at the home of eggrolls and Blues., She plays a single show at 8 pm. In the opening slot is recent Wakefield Idol winner Kaitlyn Tarro.
Long-time lady roots rocker Rosie Flores makes tracks for The Knickerbocker Music Center in Westerly (35 Railroad Avenue) on Friday night for your listening, dancing, and dining pleasure. Vince Thompson & the Next Fun Thing open at 8 pm.
J. Geils faithful should check out the Courthouse Center for the Arts in West Kingston (3481 Kingstown Road) on Saturday night for a performance by Magic Dick & friends starting at 8 pm. In East Greenwich at the Greenwich Odeum (59 Main Street) that same evening, Atlanta-based Fleetwood Mac tribute band Rumours does its thing, also at 8 pm.
Dan Ferguson is a free-lance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 – 9 pm on WRIU-FM 90.3.