Small Blue Green Letters, Ritt’s latest recording and his fifth on the Uvulittle label, marks Deitz’s return to stringed instruments and voices and recalls his first full-length release, Hillbilly (Bentback 1999, anthologized on the 2006 Uvulittle release Collected 1999-2000), exchanging Steve Burke’s mandolin for Deitz’s banjo and with the harmonies of backing vocalist Lindsey Hinkel Craig Totten’s dobro work.
The small-town feel one often hears in Deitz’s songs shines through. A native of Florence, Kentucky, Deitz lives in a tightly-knit block on the Near East Side of Madison, Wisconsin, which a musician neighbor (who grew up a block from where Deitz lived as a child) has called “Mayberry.” You can hear both of these on the opening track, “Here Comes the Band.” “A float goes by, the FFA / has filled that thing all up with hay / it must have taken them the whole darn day / but I ain’t sure I care / Where’s the band?”
The songs hang together like communities do in small towns, neighborhoods, even workplaces. Deitz writes like a man aware of the forces of Big Data, of consumerism, of individualism, of the have-a-nice-day shallowness that seems to define, ever quickly, what it means to be happy in America. “I know we have these things to contend with,” says Deitz (whose songs the Onion once called “well-wrought”), “but we do have these thoughts, these lives, and each other.”
The songs move from lighter and melodic (“Here Comes the Band,” “Bike”) to heady ballad-like tunes (“Chicago” or the album’s only cover, a very acoustic version of Yazoo’s 1980s synth hit, “Only You”) and back again. The only percussion on this record, as was the case on Hillbilly, comes from Joe Meisel’s thumping bass (or regular collaborator Dave Foss’s hammered dulcimer, which, as Foss regularly reminds Meisel, is also a percussion instrument).
The record’s last tune, the old-fashioned waltz “My Rare One” (about a couple who meets and grows old by a river), gives the lyrics-oriented listener pause. “Everyone needs love,” says Deitz, “but let’s not confuse regular kindness with love, the kind that can only happen in the particular.” It helps to know this, but either way, this album takes us into the question mark of Fall 2015 as a fresh spin on the sentence Deitz puts in the liner notes of all his records: Only love is stronger than music.
[ Ritt Deitz ] [ Dave Foss ] [ Joe Meisel ] [ Lindsey Hinkel ] [ Gary McGraw ] [ Wilder Deitz ] [ Ella Deitz ]