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Josh Ritter - Invites you to a "listening party"
on 2 May 2010
In the US there is allegedly a new phenomena called "listening parties" akin to book clubs where you invite around friends to enjoy and reflect upon a new album. The prospect of a gaggle of excited but desperately pious American's earnestly sitting in a room saying "let us deconstruct that guitar solo on track 4" would I'm afraid lead me to bolt for the front door or at least start the beginnings of a tunnel through the wooden floorboards. Yet it is understood that none other then Josh Ritter's new album "So run's the world away" is now a key work subject to this intense scrutiny and dissection! In one sense Ritter is an ideal candidate for such an exercise, he has quietly gone about his business writing some very classy songs over the years and his work has echoes of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and Ryan Adams. On previous albums like the breakthrough "Hello Starling" and the more recent and rockier "The historical conquests" he has shown that being prolific does no mean a dip in quality and this has led to claims that he is one of the great singer songwriters of our generation not least of all amongst his fanatical fan base in the Emerald Isle. Personally despite epic songs like "Snow is Gone", "Wolves" and "Harrisburg" I have always had some doubts, sometimes its all been just a bit too jaunty and nice. I'm glad to say however that its time to eat humble pie and that any doubts are now totally removed by this great new album
The reason for this is that "So run's the world away" has a harder and darker edge. Indeed the influence of Tom Waits figures here, just listen to "Rattling Locks" which could have sat on the "Mule Variations" albeit Ritter would need to drop a few octaves. In another powerful key track "The Lantern", Bruce Springsteen is evoked circa "The Wild Innocent and E Street Shuffle" with a initial "picking" electric guitar background which evolves into a pounding rock anthem. Ritter also dusts down for modern times the old Blind Will McTell murder ballad "Delia" performed of course more latterly by Johnny Cash as the "Folk Bloodbath." It is characterised by that old chanting blues that taps into something deeply American and he populates it with villains beloved of previous murder ballads including Louis Collins and Stagger Lee and it is incredibly well done. The gentle "Southern Pacifica" is effortless and will no doubt become a live staple of his excellent concert performances.
The key highlights pick themselves and they are to be found in a trio of songs compromising "The Curse", "See how man is made" and the albums longest track "Another new world". "The Curse" is a ghostly waltz which Ritter nails so brilliantly it could hang on the wall. It intertwines a eerie story of love and the sea and is punctuated by brilliant trumpet backing. "See how a man is made" is one of his most mature and probably greatest songs to date. It is moving ballad and signals that at his best Ritter has few peers in the song writing stakes but also in terms of sheer singing ability. "Another new world" is a long almost spoken rolling piano ballad which clocks in over 7 minutes but will pay dividends on repeated listens with its intriguing story line of exploration and discovery which must owe a debt to Edgar Allan Poe's poem of love and loss "Annabel Lee".
Missteps, well there is "The Lark" which is perhaps a bit to close to Graceland's era Paul Simon for comfort (although if its good enough for Vampire Weekend....?). Similarly judgement will be reserved on the pounding "Remnants" while the very short opener "Curtains" is neither fish nor fowl. That said "Long Shadows" is very pop orientated and genuinely lovely closer. Josh Ritter has perhaps been too much of a well kept secret in the UK, let us sincerely hope that the world doesn't run away from this album and stays present to make it the success it deserves.