RITT DEITZ – After the Mountains
(2006 Uvulittle Records)
Ritt Deitz’s fourth release After the Mountains is a leisurely stroll through just about every sub-genre that falls under the collective umbrella of roots rock. Blues, folk, country and gospel all make an appearance as he wanders (figuratively) from Mexico to Chicago.
The record has already proven itself an easy-listen long before you get to track eleven, but it’s at that point that he really proves himself as a songwriter. “Dear Mr. Ball” is as earnest and literate as any of Harry Chapin’s catalog, and like many of Chapin’s songs it’s a heartbreaker. A 1945 rejection letter from a music publisher, set to a bouncy mix of guitar, dulcimer and upright bass, details the many reasons why “Mr. Ball, our company can do without your song.” First and foremost, it seems that gospel music just isn’t selling these days, and they go on to say what it is they would like to hear: “Yes, music with a western feel is what we’d like to see / Or nice hillbilly novelties that make you slap your knee.” Their perfectly-rhymed dismissal tends to take a few more personal jabs than one would expect from a professional organization: “You probably play with a little band / There’s not much that you own / But I’m afraid your music has to stay in your small home.” Ouch. But the real punch line actually comes two songs later in “The Word of God is Living Still”: lyrics 1945 Jesse Ball, music 2006 Ritt Deitz. Everyone loves a happy ending.
Separating the two is the instantly likeable “Riverboat.” Deitz is as unafraid to rhyme riverboat with itself as he is to admit that “Note for note, this whole song is about a riverboat.” Deitz definitely fares better when he stays on the folksier side of the street. The jaunty acoustic strum of “Debonair” wouldn’t sound out of place on one of Paul Cebar’s funkily eclectic records. Thanks to Craig Totten’s stellar dobro work and keening back-up vocals, the traditional lament, “All the Good Times Are Past and Gone,” is given new life.
It’s when he tries to overextend that he falls short with the tired come-ons in the rocker “Roll and Bend” seeming as insincere as the electric guitar whine backing it. And the bluesy insult (“I can take candy from a baby / I can take money from a lady / Honey there ain’t much that I won’t do / But I can’t take you”) of “I Can’t Take You” has been done before. But overall, he connects more than misses. Fans of strong-voiced storytellers like John Gorka and Greg Brown will find it hard not to like most of Mountains.