A large crowd gathered at the historic La Fonda theater in the heart of Hollywood, on a cold, wet and sleepy Tuesday night, January 19th, to hear American music crooner, Josh Ritter. The smiley fresh faced singer, who at age 39, has been recording his own songs for nearly twenty years is perhaps more well known on the East Coast Indie circuit. But the Idaho native may be reaching a wider audience on the strength of his new, more rock oriented album, “Sermon on The Rocks”.
The evening began with the Indie 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 bands 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 form 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.
Josh Ritter took the stage next, shortly after 930 and delivered a powerful near two hour set of rock drenched Americana music. The show opened with several solo songs by Ritter showcasing his unique vocals, putting him the rarified air of modern American folk troubadours like Bob Dylan, Lou Reed or Tom Waits. By accident or default, Ritter also had a strong influence on his music, 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 group features, Zack Hickman on Bass, guitar, tuba and various stringed instruments, Sam Kassirer on Piano, keyboards, organ and accordion, Austin Nevins on Guitar, lap steel and baritone and Liam Hurley on Drums and percussion. The band particularly shined on the new more rock oriented material form their latest album, 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 Indie music scene. It was a good night for Americana music in the heart of Hollywood.