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Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Josh Ritter

With his fifth studio album, singer-songwriter Josh Ritter busts out of his introspective, folk-rock shell with bracing abandon. Instead of merely working out melodies to fit his lyrics, the Idaho native first let his musical imagination run wild, writing, arranging and recording the basic tracks for the project before composing a single word. The result is his most freewheeling and satisfying record to date, a kaleidoscopic album that runs the gamut from unfussy orchestral pop to unfettered rock - and-roll.

Ritter wrote the music at the piano, an instrument that he barely knows how to play. Judging by the recorded evidence, the process was invigorating: The raucous exuberance and sense of discovery that pervade his album recall touchstones like "The Basement Tapes" by Bob Dylan and the Band, and "Mermaid Avenue" (Woody Guthrie material repurposed by Billy Bragg and Wilco). In the song "Rumors," in what amounts to a musical statement of purpose, Ritter exults, "Serenade me with rocks, love / No lullabies through the locks, love / Locked myself in with the band / But the music's never loud enough."

Gunfighters, saints and biblical figures populate Ritter's stream-of-consciousness lyrics, seemingly anyone or anything that the record's sprung rhythms and melodies conjured in his head. Approaching songwriting in this manner can be risky, but not only does it work here, it coheres in much the same oblique way that Dylan's more outlandish lyrics often do.

Ritter seems to know as much when, in his best impersonation of the bard, he sings, "He's riding the plains / Living up to his name / As the next to the last true romantic / He knows his story is tragic / But he can't rest / 'Til he's next / To you."

-- Bill Friskics-Warren

DOWNLOAD THESE:"To the Dogs or Whoever," "Open Doors," "Next to the Last True Romantic"

Josh Ritter is scheduled to perform at the 9:30 club Oct. 9.


Travis Morrison Hellfighters

Whether you consider "All Y'All" the second Travis Morrison solo album or the debut of the band credited on its cover -- Travis Morrison Hellfighters -- is unimportant. What is: The disc represents a heartening rebound, the true beginning of Morrison's post-Dismemberment Plan career. Meaning it succeeds by simultaneously banishing the specter of 2004's highly unfortunate Travistan while establishing an engaging stylistic beachhead of equal parts D-Plan jitter and mid-tempo bedroom funk.

Morrison (an employee of originally envisioned the Hellfighters as a four-keyboard group, and while synth blats and organ washes abound -- as on "Churchgoer" and "Book of Names" -- extremes are tempered on this album, and that's vital. Credit the production work of D-Plan guitarist Jason Cadell or the assured musicianship for that, but the best moments here should hearten Morrison fans immensely: "Hawkins Rock" sounds like a lost Plan classic, "Just Didn't Turn Me On" turns on an infectious hook and a superbly restrained vocal, while "I'm Not Supposed to Like You (But)" slides the disc's lyrical themes -- sexuality, the mystery of desire and maybe something about apple pie -- across on a stuttery soul-rock groove.

Only "Saturday Night," the curiously bland closer, and the simply silly "I Do," which sounds like a B-side escaped onto an album, mar the proceedings. During the latter, Morrison claims "I wanna hear screams of pleasure," and while "All Y'All" isn't quite that moving, it will surely inspire a few moans . . . and many sighs of relief.

-- Patrick Foster

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Just Didn't Turn Me On," "Hawkins Rock"

Travis Morrison Hellfighters are scheduled to perform Sept. 1 at Iota Club.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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