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album review | POP

Josh Ritter, ‘Sermon on the Rocks’

Courtesy of the artist

Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter is moving fast on his eighth album, but he never puts a foot wrong. The 12-track collection, produced by Trina Shoemaker over two weeks in New Orleans, is positively giddy with wordplay; Ritter skitters over nimble grooves laid down by Matt Barrick of the Walkmen on drums, bassist Zachariah Hickman, guitarist Josh Kaufman, and pianist Sam Kassirer. A series of vivid vignettes, “Sermon” is filled with the often woeful tales of small-town souls both lost and saved, and of those surrounding them in judgment. The tracks veer from the slip-sliding, fast-talking “Henrietta, Indiana,” with its shivery falsetto flight and a sly wink to Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance,” to the simultaneously ominous and catchy “Birds of the Meadow,” flocking in a Leonard Cohen-esque neighborhood, and the sanctified Southern soul of “Young Moses.” The jaunty country shuffle of “Cumberland” urges a character home; fittingly, “Homecoming” follows with a sense of optimism that imbues the album’s darker corners with a welcome lightness.

SARAH RODMAN

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ESSENTIAL “Henrietta, Indiana”

Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band play the Sinclair on Monday.