Fever Breaks

Josh Ritter and Jason Isbell!? What a tasty collaboration. At least that is what I thought when I first read it. What if though? Could Isbell clog Ritter sweet songs up with dirty American riffs?

Overall no! Isbell does give a weightier guitar girth to Ritter’s sound. The night I discovered Ritter, back in 2001 he was supporting The Frames, he was all Steve Forbert lightness of touch. 

Ritter’s arrangements and instrumentation have increased over the two decades since but Isbell brings even more noise for the buck. This is much more Tom Petty with Isbell’s 400 Units as Heartbreakers and even on Losing Battle Neil Young with Isbell’s 400 Units as Crazy Horse.

There’s always been a Dylan influence in the Ritter DNA and here we get lots of different Dylan eras but Amanda Shires fiddle adds what Scarlet Rivera gave to Desire. 

In the end though the whole thing works. The songs and the playing are too good to get lost under the potential weaknesses.

Ritter’s tunes and melodies are instantaneous and unique to his own rhythmic persona. They drive and soar and float through you. Losing Battles drives, Old Black Magic soars and All Some Kind Of Dream floats.

Ritter’s lyrics are as wordy and clever as ever but it’s the reach of subject matter that is most impressive.

There are two cold blooded murder ballads in what are the opening tracks to both side of the vinyl; Ground Don't Want Me and Silverblade. There’s social and political commentary on, perhaps in the end too wordy, Torch Committee and the more poetically subtle but accurately pointed All Some Kind Of Dream. There’s politics of the heart too in the beautiful I Still Love You (Now and Then).

Most intriguing for me with my spiritual interests are the final three songs.

Losing Battles seems to recognise the weakness within us all to do the good we’d like to do:


“Try to do the things I should

Most times its a losing battle”


Ritter intriguingly follows that confession with A New Man:


In every strangers face, a place of welcome

No matter who you are or where you came from

You won't walk among the dead a moment longer

You won't belong there


You will be a new man

You will be a new man

You will be a new man



Preach it Josh and then take us home Blazing Highway Home, an addition to that ever increasing number of prayers in the rock music catalogue:


Still St. Peter, you don't want to wait

Throw it in gear and roll on through those gates

And know no matter where your soul may roam

That you'll find yourself a blazing highway home


Ritter with Isbell at the throttle is a musically intoxicating brew. Definitely worth the experiment that will hopefully open Ritter’s audience up wider. The utter quality of his songs deserves that!


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