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4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
The Animal Years
Format: Audio CD|Change
Price:£39.53+ £1.26 shipping

on 15 October 2017
Ritter + Vinyl = eargasm
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 1 April 2006
You can't blame Josh Ritter for getting to this point in his career and feeling some kind of need to make a statement, get a bit more serious as an artist, join the ranks. To me it feels very much like 'The Animal Years' (a reference to his early days as a musician, apparently) is Josh saying, okay, here I am, I'm as good as anyone else and I claim my place. The animal years are over.
Many fans will have watched Josh's music progress from his charming, and at times humorous first album, through 'Golden Age of Radio' and the breakthrough 'Hello Starling'. Part of the charm at the start was that he didn't appear to be taking himself to seriously. Now he is.
But that's okay if you can pull it off without sounding pompous or silly, and of course he does pull it off. I'm not sure I particularly enjoy all nine minutes odd of 'Thin Blue Flame', but I've sat with the lyrics and it's brilliantly written. Along with the more tuneful 'In the Dark' 'Thin Blue Flame' is the unavoidable comment on today's bad, bad world, but one is direct and uncompromising, the other light and melodic, beautiful even.
Ritter's writing is changing: the themes here are identifiable but not so easy to access as before. You have to stop and figure out what these songs are really about, you have to interpret the meaning.
Other things are changing too. Josh sounded, or tried to sound gruff like Dylan on his first record. Now he's almost borrowing Ryan Adams' 'other voice' and often sings high, sweet and open, like on the plaintive 'Idaho' or 'One More Mouth'. This guy can sing.
'Thin Blue Flame' manages not to unbalance the album luckily. In fact, there's a nice balance between 'Hello starling' type songs that have a driving rhythm, lighter songs like 'Good Man' and sparse, quiet songs like 'Idaho'.
I'm not a huge fan of songs like 'Lillian', which I find a bit noisy and monotonous. But there are some cracking songs, some that really hit the spot. 'Good Man' is brilliantly put together, catchy, intricate, unusual. 'Monster Ballads' is spacious and deliberate, atmospheric, iconic. There are at least two others that seem destined to become all-time favourites.
So I can't help giving this the full five stars. It's very good. I just wonder though whether I don't LIKE those early albums just a little more. Time will tell.
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on 15 March 2006
I came across Josh at an open mic in Boston MA, after the release of his first album and have loved his live performances and recordings since. The Animal Years is a great title for this album as Josh has described the intensive touring as living like an animal. I saw him in December 2004 in New York and worried that he was totally burnt out and started to wonder how he would use his rest period to recharge and build on his great strengths to move to the next level without sacrificing what we all love about him.
I should not have worried. The songs here are wonderful and are beautifully produced and arranged. Of course I look forward to seeing what he does with them live where Josh's charm and humility and superb musicianship bring a whole new dimension to his music.
I had heard some of them performed by Josh in his Brooklyn show last July and it is great to hear them produced more fully. I have little to say about the great Thin Blue Flame as I have been listening to the download for months now. What I love about this album is how Josh has incorporated that more experimental sound and style with songs that develop organically from his earlier styles but take them to a new level. The wit and poetry of his songwriting is as strong as ever and it is great how Sam's keyboard playing is given a chance to shine through.
My favorite tracks as of now are Monster Ballads and Good Man, but the depth and beauty of Josh's writing is such that these preferences will no doubt shift around as the whole album weaves its way into my life as his others have done.
I got this shipped to me in the States from Ireland on its first day of release. How pleased I am! Thank you Josh for another wonderful album. And incidentally, the packaging and artwork is superb.
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VINE VOICEon 22 November 2007
Animal Years is the 3rd and so far best effort from Idaho Singer-Songwriter Josh Ritter. First album 'Golden Age of Radio' had the earthy downhome sounds of a musician finding his creative feet, second album 'Hello Starling' was a polished collection of songs including the stunning 'Wings', but 'Animal Years' takes another fascinating batch of songs with a common feel or concept and puts them all together to great effect.

As the title hints, our animal friends do get a couple of mentions (like on the stonking 'Wolves'), but the real feel of the album is a guy at a certain point of his life looking back on what he's done so far and admiting that he still might have to make a few mistakes before he gets where he's going.

It is almost as if this record is from a slightly different time lyrically and subject matter wise (there are various references to Laurel and Hardy and Silent movies as well as Egypt!)- but has a modern sound, very nicely produced by Brian Deck.

Josh is a storyteller of great talents. He has equally Dylan-esque vague moments as he does Springsteen-like starkness. He's finally settled into his voice on this record, far more than the debut, and uses its lighter tones to great effect.

He's one of the hardest working men in the business (take a look at his tour schedule!), and clearly just loves to perform (check out the live CD/DVD 'Live in the Dark at Vicar Street'). As much as I'd love to try to keep him secret, he deserves your adulation. Buy this album, find yourself a good stretch of country road to drive, and he won't disappoint.
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on 14 March 2006
The Animal Years is a superb album, consistent throughout at the very highest level, moving from one future classic to another, revealing Ritter's gift for superb lyrics, music that respects the best American traditions but is entirely original and a subtle, restrained musicianship from the entire ensemble that few can rival on the current scene. As fine as his earlier work is, this album is his best. Essential!
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on 13 March 2006
Josh Ritter, ages like a fine wine. This fourth album shows that his thoughtful songwriting process continues to evoke and provoke. It would have been easy to have presented a " Hello Starling " part two, but this time our favourite Idahoan tackles political issues on the sublime " Girl in the War " and the intense " Thin Blue Flame", but is never didactic or preachy. Religious themes permeate this work as on previous outings, in an unintrusive way. Wolves, Idaho, Good Man , Best for the Best more personal journies and Fans of his beautiful imagery and metaphor will feel very satiated by this album. It is one of those rewarding slow burner type of albums, ages well just like its creator. To fully appreciate Josh, you must hear his live interpretations of these songs. The voice is pure, mind full of awe and a soul laden with humility a precious combination . This guy deserves to be massive, what Ireland sees the world will too.All of his albums fantastic company on long car drives through Idaho or Inverness.Superb
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on 28 January 2013
This album is where Josh Ritter starts to come of age.

A beautifully crafted album that benefits from better production value and more mature song writing.

This man cannot write bad lyrics and sings in a fashion that tongue ties me.

Having met him personally on three occasions and spent time chatting with him, you realise that he is a chap with a sharp intellect, but also a very warm heart.

Invest in a copy and enjoy. True talent.

Oh and he has a prediliction for angels. Just try and count all the references in his various albums and EPs. Great little Easter egg.
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on 1 December 2009
This album for me is without fault. What a masterpiece. Each song reinvents itself with every listen, and has a sense of purpose I just cannot fathom. I just do not possess the vocabulary to tell you how good this album is. Just buy it...
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on 21 April 2006
It's been said in the other reviews, and they've done a grand job expaining how this album is the most serious that Josh has released. As an album, it probably isn't quite as magnificent as "Golden Age of Radio" in terms of how accessable it is ("Idaho", "Monster Ballads" and the marvellous "Thin Blue Flame" take some real effort to appreciate on the level they are intended) but what this album has that the other 3 don't is an absolutely fantastic song that could stand out on it's own as one of the very best ever written. "Wolves" is quite simply a masterpiece, every listen brings new depths and the poetic nature of Ritter's lyrics conjure up some fanatstic images in the listener's mind. In this album, Josh is telling us stories with his music but is encouraging the listener to emote and visualise the intricacies - "Wolves" is where this is most evident and most powerful. A must-own for any fan and a "must give it a chance" for anyone else!
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on 6 July 2007
Ritter's fourth album, "The Animal Years", opens with "Girl in the War", a song that combines a dialogue between the apostles Peter and Paul with concerns for the soldiers fighting in Iraq, with the gender-reversal of the man being concerned for his girl who is away fighting. However, rather than being a hand-wringing protest song, it is more a call to action and, as a songwriter, what Ritter can do is make this album:

Paul said to Peter you got to rock yourself a little harder /
Pretend the dove from above is a dragon and your feet are on fire /
But I got a girl in the war Paul /
The only thing I know to do is turn up the music /
And pray that she makes it through

However, a clear message is also sent with this song that those in charge have the responsibility to do their utmost to bring the troops back home safely:

I got a girl in the war Paul /
I know that they can here me yell /
If they can't find a way to help her /
They can go to Hell

This theme is taken up again on the album's centrepiece - the 9-minute "Thin Blue Flame", which is packed with references to the Bible, Shakespeare, and even Laurel & Hardy. The song contains some incredible lines, such as this thinly-veiled attack on the Bible Belt conservatives who seem to hold sway in America at present:

Now the wolves are howling at our door /
Singing bout vengeance like it's the joy of the Lord /
Bringing justice to the enemies not the other way round /
They're guilty when killed and they're killed where they're found /
If what's loosed on earth will be loosed up on high /
It's a Hell of a Heaven we must go to when we die

It is reminiscent of Bob Dylan's "Masters of War", written also about those who promoted an indefinite war in a far-off land. Using similar imagery, "Wolves" appears to be a lament for the "innocent" times that existed before the chaos that Ritter sees as having descended on his country:

Then winter came and there was little left between us /
Skin and bones of love won't make a meal /
I felt my eyes drifting over your shoulder /
There were wolves at the edge of the field /
But I still remember that time when we were dancing /
We were dancing to a song that I'd heard /
Your face was simple and your hands were naked /
I was singing without knowing the words

Elsewhere, Ritter seeks to escape this world by retreating into one of times past. "Lillian, Egypt" is about a doomed romance humourously portrayed in the style of an old silent movie, complete with mustachioed villans and damsels in distress, whilst "Monster Ballads" draws its inspiration from the writings of Mark Twain, as it idealises a time past when he feels that you could be truely free:

Ones and zeroes bleeding mesa noise /
And when you're empty there's so much space for them /
You turn it off but then a still small voice /
Comes in blazing from some vast horizon

And I was thinking about my river days /
I was thinking about me and Jim /
Passing Cairo on a getaway /
With every steamboat like a hymn

Also worth a listen on the album are the "In the Dark", "Here at the Right Time", and "One More Mouth".

Ritter has a very simple, clear singing style that is complemented by a mixture of instrumentation (e.g. guitar, mandolin, organ) that never overpowers his almost delicate delivery. For example, his crooning on "Idaho" feels like a cold wind blowing down some long and lonely country road. On the other hand, the lyrics tend to lend themselves more to poetry than music at times and a more tightly structured approach is probably needed if Ritter wishes to attain wider commercial success.

In all, though, a pretty well-made and thought-provoking album. However, it would have been the better album for some stronger emotion in that voice. Intelligent artists need to be more than "war photographers" in troubled times. Not all films are better for allowing just the images to tell the tale.
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