Josh Ritter is one of my favorite songwriters. He has a unique way of painting stories with words, but not just any words. It’s not complicated, trying to draw on the psychology or theology that you might have heard from a professor. Well, not always. Rather, it’s pure and honest – a clear description of a situation or a person that relates to your experiences or feelings. It starts off as an innocent pull, but by the end you’ll find yourself still, lost in a bounty of your own thoughts and imagination. You’ll be wondering what it was that sucked you in. Please, give yourself a chance to get lost in his art. Put your social media, alerts, and text messages on hold for a second, and just listen.
“Joy to You Baby” is the 12th track from Josh Ritter’s new full-length album, The Beast In Its Tracks, released this week. The album is his seventh, although he’s released eight EPs as well over the last ten years. Put simply, this guy is a writing machine. The Beast in Its Tracks is the culmination of emotions, struggles, realizations, and effects of Ritter’s heartache from a broken marriage years ago.
It felt like a different record from the start. Far from the grand, sweeping feel of the songs on So Runs the World Away, these new ones felt like rocks in the shoe, hard little nuggets of whatever they were, be it spite, remorse, or happiness. I told all this to Sam Kassirer, my producer and friend. If we recorded these songs, which felt so personal, their starkness needed a corresponding simplicity of production. I hadn’t composed this stuff, I’d scrawled it down, just trying to keep ahead of the heartbreak, and they needed to be recorded like that.
With any heartbreak comes healing, which is exactly what started to happen as Ritter discovered love again. He found his new wife during that time of despondency, with whom he is excitedly raising their first child. The drastic life change within a few short years was also an influencer in the album, which evolves from songs written in anger to songs created with hope. Josh explained it simply in an interview with Rainn Wilson (yes, THE Rainn Wilson), “If I’m proud of anything with this record, it’s that I waited and gave it time for it to become something more than what it was at the beginning.” Have a listen to the official lyric video for “New Lover.”
Sometimes it’s not enough to fit a story into just one song, so you have to write a novel. Well, that’s exactly what Josh Ritter did when he wrote Bright’s Passage. Published in the summer of 2011, Ritter summarizes, ”It’s about a kind of sweet normal guy from West Virginia. He goes to the first World War and he comes back and he has an angel. And it’s about him and this angel escaping this wildfire for five days. It’s sort of this short little comedy.” Moral of the story: if you haven’t released 20 albums and a novel in just over a decade, then you’re not Josh Ritter. His mind never stops creating art, and that’s what fans love about him. In fact, fans can catch Ritter on The Beast In Its Tracks Tour, with U.S. dates starting next week and continuing through May 2013. For more updates and links to get the new album, visit www.joshritter.com, and check out his older albums while you’re at it!
By Steve Harpine | Nashville Ambassador | @Steve_MWL | Beat-Play & Music Without Labels, LLC