RITT DIETZ – Collected
(2006 Uvulittle Records)
Hearing songs from early in someone’s career is often like reading their journal, a glimpse into what they were thinking and feeling at that point in their life. Collected brings together songs from Ritt Deitz’s first two CDs, the out-of-print Stay (2000) and the soon-to-be Hillbilly (1999), and in truth it’s a little too much like a journal. No event is too small or mundane to write a song about: hanging out with his wife’s grandfather (“Starlight”), riding the bus with his girlfriend (“Bus”), making pancakes for his kids (“That’s All”). I’ve “read” his two year journal and here’s what I found- he loves his wife, Madison and dogs, in that order. His wife is the main player here, a minor character in some songs, but taking center stage in the pretty love song “Victoria.”
His second love, Madison, provides the backdrop for many of his life tales, streets are name-checked (State, Gilman, Williamson), lakes, creeks and local bands get mentioned; even Hilldale Mall and a specific bus (the 14) have a part to play. And well, there are dogs everywhere, though I wish he’d explain this line to me, “A day without a dog is like a joke without a punch line” (“Something for Dogs”). Which is, um, what? Not funny? Disappointing?
In the category of “song most likely to get him beat up for being a sissy,” there’s an entire song about pie (er, “Pie”). Seriously. A man can claim he likes “to do all the things a real man should,” in this case play the guitar, go camping and chop wood, but once he spouts a line like “I mixed a little dough/ And then I rolled it into a ball/ I made a thin crust out of that chubby little ball/ Then did a little bitty dance down my little bitty hall,” he better be ready to defend himself. Silly and ingratiating, it almost sounds as if it was pulled from a children’s record.
There is something comfortable about these songs, as familiar and non-threatening as a pair of worn slippers. Deitz’s soothing voice and smooth guitar work make for easy and uncomplicated listening. Even though these songs are from a half dozen years ago, the names of the supporting players are still the backbone of the Madison music scene. Steve Burke, Jay Moran and Biff Blumfumgagnge all lend their skills. I guess some things about Madison will never change, the buses will almost run you over and hippies will hang out on Willie Street, and there will always be folks like Deitz to immortalize its charms.