Ritt Deitz releases his fifth full-length CD of original and traditional songs, Upstream, on Uvulittle Records. Ritt spent the winter in the studio with longtime collaborators bassist Joe Meisel and guitarist / dobro player Craig Totten, sons Wilder (piano, percussion) and Mitch (percussion) and hammered dulcimer player Dave Foss. Singer-songwriter Sara Pace guests on backing vocals on four songs, including a lovely duet version of the Southern gospel standard "Wayfaring Stranger." Ritt's neighbor Andy Ewen, frontman of the Madison psychoblues quartet Honor Among Thieves, sits in on "Cloudy," an early Dire-Straits-like meditation on living by a road the highway department keeps widening every few years.
Upstream marks a musical turning point for Ritt with the regular addition of piano (Wilder), hammered dulcimer (Dave) and much more regular percussion (Wilder, Mitch). Upstream also features more backing vocal arrangements, creating a new ensemble feel unheard in his last two Uvulittle releases, After the Mountains and Collected (1999-2000). Ritt takes his quintet on tour to support Upstream this fall, with television and radio appearances in Madison, and live dates in Madison, Chicago, Louisville, Newport (KY), and Trempealeau (WI).
Creeks and rivers (like the Ohio River he grew up by) weave in and out of the songs on Upstream. Most songs are new, but there are also a few older songs, newly recorded, like "Ice" and "Okay (I Agree)," in which water surrounds the poet. "See the forming ice / On the phone lines / Imaginary birds / Changing their plans" leads to rain rushing down walls inside a house, and the changing of the seasons. "Okay (I Agree)" (featuring backing vocals by Sara Pace) is a hallucinatory walk on the water: "In my dream I was walking on the river / Trying so hard not to break in two / All my friends they were swimming underwater / They could only say one thing / Okay, I agree." Like in a lot of Ritt's other songs, isolation gives way to some kind of long yearned-for unity, which in turn risks turning into something lockstep and overwhelming.
Or, like in "My Favorite Color," in which a man just out of jail tries without success to find his young daughter (born while he was gone), water brings some kind of vague release: "He looked across the river and he wished that he could swim / He'd climb up on the pilings where he'd sing and dive back in / He knew where he was going was where he'd always been / Sometimes all you have to spend is time."
Ritt's long-honed fascination with family and home and one-to-one connections with others (one-to-one connections that are unique and fragile and full of history) runs through Upstream, but this is by far the most aquatic record of Ritt's to date.
[ Wilder Deitz ] [ Sara Pace ] [ Ritt Deitz ] [ Mitch Deitz ] [ Joe Meisel ] [ Dave Foss ] [ Craig Totten ] [ Andy Ewen ]