Josh Ritter: So Runs the World Away

I imagine Josh Ritter’s an emotional guy, but he’s one who, very smartly, harnesses those emotions, shoving them into his craft, songwriting. From the time I first saw Mr. Ritter, at the Cork Opera House, on Valentine’s Day no less, I admired his heart. He, like his Irish compatriots of Hansard and Christopher, really lets the thing beat for all to hear.

He’s a man. Though he’s only four years older than me, I look up to him. All of the men in my life whom I most admire share a simple quality: an inherent goodness which they’d like to grow and maintain like a well-manicured garden, sharing with the world when appropriate. It’s more than apparent, Mr. Ritter, a constant gardener, seeks this every day.

This is why I’m a fan. This is why, in the last two years, I’ve seen Josh Ritter perform in some capacity seven times. I’ve learned a song or two on the guitar. I’d like to pick up the piano again, just to play like his studio engineer and road keys, Sam Kassirer. Josh and band stand in front of packed houses, smiling ear-to-ear, and they pour their hearts out every night. They run circles around every head in the place, leaving everyone spellbound. It’s just fun. They’re fun people with great energy. It’s obvious they’re having the time of their life. It makes me want to, too.

In the last year, he’s moved to Brooklyn, he’s married his muse, the insanely talented Dawn Landes, and he’s recorded his sixth studio album. The album speaks to his life’s events, and it’s a natural progression. Better usage of imagery and storytelling. The sound continues to grow more and more lush. It has an overarching introspection that prior albums haven’t shared. and When Bob Boilen of NPR compares an album to Bob Dylan’s Time Out of Mind, Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs and Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water, it’s hard not to think, “Wow, I gotta get into this.” And the fact is, for a guy like myself, a guy who gets caught too often with his heart on his sleeve, this album, this man are reminders that, sometimes, that’s okay.

I haven’t purchased tickets yet, but I’d like to try to catch one of his upcoming shows at The Town Hall in New York. If you’ve never seen him perform in person, give it a shot. As his popularity continues to soar, while the shows may become less intimate, I have a feeling Mr. Ritter will always manage to imbue them with a sense of the personal — the exuberant, joyous, celebratory experience of having a group of like-minded people standing in a room, breathing the same air, listening to the same sounds, hearts beating in time.

NPR has his new album free to stream right now.

My Track-by-Track Review:
1. “Curtains” closing on bachelorhood. Opening anew to married life in a new town, Brooklyn. Opening to a fresh morning’s sunrise over Whitman’s hometown. Behind those curtains, he falls in love over-and-over again. I fell asleep to this song on repeat the other night. I’ve never had a more lucid night than I did while wrapped in “Curtains.”

2. ”Change of Time” featured on the March 23rd episode of NBC’s Parenthood, sonically speaking, picks up where his standouts from Historical Conquests left off. With his “Empty Heart” now filled, Ritter finds himself in a new time. I like this time.

3. “The Curse.” See their performance on RTE (above). If you’ve ever lived in New York, you’ll understand. If you haven’t, I’m sure you can imagine it. He does a fantastic job here of waltzing around the subject.

4. The open road. The railroad. This expanse of land that is the United States. A woman named Roxianne. A long-distance relationship. How could I not fall for “Southern Pacifica?” The folks at Daily Candy put together a terrific video of Josh and his wife, Dawn, performing this song in their kitchen.

5. “Rattling Locks” has all the snarl of 70s-era Jagger. Is that an oboe? Tubular. This is the heavy Ritter which fans of his live shows have come to expect. Songs like “Locks” pepper the show with a heart-pounding, bone-crushing good time. It’s a catharsis of crashing symbols and clacking, ahem, rattling percussive drive that makes me crazy. And crazy is good.

6. A triumphant retelling of Blind Willie McTell’s “Delia”, “Folk Bloodbath” is a sing-a-long murder ballad that had me laid out, six feet under by its finish.

7. Listen to the call of the “Lark.” Listen as it calls out for a road trip.

8. Light your “Lantern” and say a prayer in the Church of Latter Day Springsteen.

9. “Remnant” with it’s hard-driving drum beat and kill-or-be-killed lyrics will really shine in a live setting.

10. “See How Man Was Made” with one of Ritter’s best opening lines, “Please, man ain’t supposed to live alone… He needs to find a home with someone else who needs a man, a man who needs a home,” may reside in my heart as my theme song for a long time.

11. Much like “The Curse,” “Another New World” will live and breathe for years to come like a late-seventies Leonard Cohen. The cadence of Cohen’s “The Guests” stands out as a clear influence on “New World.” And clocking in at 7 minutes and 39 seconds, like Cohen before him, folks will take pause before they refer to Ritter as a pop act.

12. “Orbital” just makes me want to hop up and down. Find me at his show, I’ll do it, too. Happily. Grinning ear-to-ear. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

13. His sixth studio album So Runs the World Away ends in Vintage Ritter with “Long Shadows” cast out over what has been a, dare I say it, remarkable career thus far.

Thank you to the folks at Pytheas Recordings for kindly sending a preview of So Runs the World Away.