REVIEW: Josh Ritter is one of the best songwriters our generation has the privilege of watching grow before our eyes. If you think music is important,
listen to him, look at his attention to detail, his attention to the structure of a song, and all that damn smiling he’s doing on stage.
It’s infectious and inspiring.If you listen to 88.5 WXPN, you probably know his voice, because they play him often enough. His songs are the kind of rarity that makes an aspiring music critic live within songs for weeks at a time. His 2006 release “The Animal Years” was rated as one of the year’s best, and ranked #2 behind Bob Dylan on XPN’s best albums of 2006 list.
Unsurprisingly, he’s gaining comparisons to (guess who) Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Leonard Cohen. But beyond that, what’s special about Ritter? His earlier records
leaned more toward delicate folk songs with a few ballads, but The Animals Years is the masterpiece that has set him apart from being just another singer-songwriter who can tell you a story with a hint of ambiguity.
The Animal Years is majestic, literate, passionate, and… if I need to sum this album up, listen to “Thin Blue Flame.” The 9:38 epic speeds along with line after line of vivid lyrics; it’s an essay of prose and self-reflection, until everything comes crashing and banging down on drums and piano keys.
All right, so, how are you supposed
to follow that up, again? You’re Josh Ritter, so you tweak a little bit in the music, start playing some rock and roll, and call it The Historical Conquests
of Josh Ritter. Forget being a fan of good song-writing – you can simply be a fan of hooks and songs that sound good and enjoy this record. He’s sounding like Spoon and Bruce Springsteen, he’s got songs that stomp and march ahead, uplifting ballads, and he’s still got the mind to provide ever-delicate strumming to let things breathe.
Seeing Ritter at the Live at Noon performance only added to my appreciation
for him. He was always smiling,
and when asked questions by mid-day host Helen Leicht, he went on about three sub-stories too long. He did a cover of “The River” by Bruce Springsteen based on a request, and a baby whined at the only point of the song he says the word “baby.”
Josh Ritter could not have possibly given a more perfect performance. While Ritter is on his Historical Conquests,
one would best see him at his next full show in Philly, on Nov. 7 at the World Café Live.
Chris Zakorchemny can be reached at email@example.com.