Jesse Kornbluth, of HeadButler.com, this week cheering for the singer-songwriter adored by English majors and the men and women who adore them.
I love silent days crafting sentences alone, but if you put a gun to my head and told me I’d have to trade my maid’s room for the stages of music clubs and universal critical praise and the adulation of America’s smartest audiences.….yeah, I guess I could stand being Josh Ritter.
From his first release, a decade ago, to “The Beast in Its Tracks,” this guy hasn’t made a foolish move. As a writer, he produces lyrics that, if they were prose, you’d underline them. As a singer, he’s like Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Paul Simon; there’s one person he’s trying to reach, and that’s you. And in performance, backed by a crackerjack band, he’s mesmerizing: exuberant, goofy, unfiltered and absolutely delighted to be onstage. No one has ever had more fun at a Josh Ritter concert than Josh Ritter.
This time, newcomers may suspect an exploration of darker themes. “The Beast in Its Tracks” is being presented as a “breakup” record because he wrote these songs in response to his wife’s out-of-the-blue announcement that, after just a year, their marriage was over. I understand this shorthand, but I don’t think it will last long. As Josh takes these songs across America — he’s about to start a 37-city tour — I think they’ll connect with audiences more immediately than any music he’s made. And then “Beast” will become his “breakthrough” record.
For a writer who can toss off long, convoluted lyrics, he’s served up 13 fairly simple songs here. And they’re surprisingly jolly — he’s not cranking up the band for take-that-bitch revenge songs. He’s got a new lover; he hopes his ex-wife does too. (He hasn’t totally forsaken clever; in that song’s final line, he notes that if she’s still alone, “well, that would make me happy too.”) His new lover is “hopeful” for him. He’s thrilled to be “in your arms again.”