A large crowd gathered at the historic Fonda Theater in LA, January 19th to hear Americana singer songwriter Josh Ritter. The 39 year old smiley fresh faced singer from Idaho has been recording his own songs for nearly twenty years, but is now reaching a wider audience on the strength of his new, more rock oriented album, Sermon on The Rocks.
The evening began with the Americana quintet, Elephant Revival, playing a brilliant opening set. The Nederland, Colorado band occupies a musical genre somewhere between the sounds of Mumford and Sons and Arcade Fire, but with their own endearing musical stamp. Their music sometimes described as “transcendental folk,” incorporates all sorts of elements of American music blended with Scottish Celtic traditional fiddle tunes. Fans who have been following the band from the beginning may have been a little wary since original banjo player and vocalist Sage Cook left the group. But the band’s new member Charlie Rose, seems to have made the transition flawlessly. The multi-instrumentalist added his own rich vocals to the mix Tuesday night, and the band had the crowd in a dancing mood from the opening song. The band played a wide range of material and along with bands like The Oh Hellos, could be part of the next wave of American folk headliners.
Ritter took the stage next and delivered a powerful two hour set of rock drenched Americana. The show opened with several solo songs by Ritter showcasing his unique vocals, putting in him the rarified air of modern American folk troubadours like Jeff Tweedy and Jason Isbell. By accident or default, Ritter also has a strong influence from Celtic roots, much like Elephant Revival. But his influence came directly from a trip inspired by Glen Hansard and his band The Frames, when they invited him to return with them to Ireland, after hearing him play early in his career. The resulting rich blend of a myriad folk styles has made his music his own. No doubt Ritter enjoys his role as the indie troubadour, smiling from ear to ear for the duration of his set.
After the short solo set, Ritter was joined by his masterful band of rockers, The Royal City Band. The band particularly shined on the more rock oriented material from Sermon on The Rocks. But the quintet led by the ever smiling Ritter, easily moved between the rocking new songs from Sermon and older finger-picking folksy tunes like “Certain Light” and “Change of Time.” Ritter seemed quite comfortable swapping back and forth between his acoustic Gibson and an array of electric guitars. Moving seamlessly through an array of genres the band rocked an appreciative crowd late into the night. Ritter ended with an encore of his trademark song “Kathleen,” the hit from one of his earliest records, Hello Starling that first helped launch Ritter on the scene. It was a good night for Americana music in the heart of Los Angeles.