LP Review: Hello Starling by Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter
Hello Starling
Signature; 2003

My Rating: B (73/100)

Best Tracks: "Bright Smile", "Kathleen", "You Don’t Make It Easy Babe", "Wings", "Snow Is Gone", "Bone of Song"

The sound of a man singing for the love of it.

TRACK NOTES

"Bright Smile" (4.5/5)

  • Right off the bat, it sounds like another huge leap forward.
  • Soft and beautiful, wistful and innocent.
  • Love that guitar line. It’s a daydream.

"Kathleen" (5/5)

  • Love this song.
  • “All the other girls here are stars/You are the northern lights”
  • However, something has always bothered me about the vocals, like the song should be in a different key to really get Josh’s voice right.
  • Regardless, great stuff.

"You Don’t Make It Easy Babe" (4.5/5)

  • Great song.
  • The live version found on a later EP is fantastic.
  • “Here I am standing at your window again…”

"Man Burning" (4/5)

"Rainslicker" (4/5)

  • Excellent arrangement.
  • This is lazy rainy day music.

"Wings" (4.5/5)

  • Amazing lyrics (one of his trademarks of course).
  • Love it when the piano tones in.

"California" (4/5)

  • "This song goes out to every waiter in Los Angeles."

"Snow Is Gone" (5/5)

  • One of his defining songs. Completely brilliant and joyful.
  • “I’m singing for the love of it/Have mercy on the man who sings to be adored…”
  • “Hello blackbird/Hello starling/Come on over/Be my darling!”

"Bone of Song" (4.5/5)

  • Another quiet and gorgeous song.
  • Love the fiddle playing "Auld Lang Syne" at the end.

"Baby That’s Not All" (4/5)

  • Gorgeous melody.
  • Sweet arrangement.
  • Not an amazing song, but the melody and arrangement carry it a long way.

"Bad Actress" (3.5/5)

  • Remarkably forgettable.
  • I think this one could have been left off to the improvement of the album.
  • After all, it would be pretty good as an outtake.

ALBUM NOTES

  • On Hello Starling, JR still sounds like he hasn’t into his own in terms of his voice and performance, but most of the songs are great nonetheless, and there’s an undeniable warmth and heart to his performances that wins you over.
  • Great lyrics, great melodies. In fact, the lyrics are the best thing about this record.
  • The loveliness, quite simply, abounds. Even some of the lesser known cuts like "Bone of Song", "Rainslicker", and "Baby That’s Not All", though understated, sound as fresh as the country rain.
  • Though he’s taken a turn for the more produced over the last few albums, I’d love to get a stripped down, bluegrass sort of record from Ritter. His melodies are strong enough to carry something like that through.
  • One thing that bothers me about this album is the production. It just sounds uneven (maybe it was supposed to sound live?).
  • Overall, portends of the great things to come.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Concept (4/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Songs (4.32/5)

Quick Review (LP): Golden Age of Radio by Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter
Golden Age of Radio
Signature; 2002

My Rating: B (72/100)

Best Tracks: "Come And Find Me", "Me & Jiggs", "You’ve Got The Moon", "Leaving", "The Other Side"

NOTES
– Right off the bat, it’s a giant leap from his debut. "Come And Find Me" is gorgeous.
– These are highly memorable songs, even if the performances sound like Ritter hadn’t quite come into his own as a performer. Despite the great melodies and brilliant lyricism of "Come and Find Me" and "Leaving", the record as a whole feels a bit under-ripe.
– "Drive Away" is overlooked, but it’s got a nice melancholy feel.
– It’s easy to miss this, but the record is pretty well crafted in terms of theme. This is a road record, a starry-eyed vagabond dream.
The AMG review gets it right.
– A sublime live recording of "Golden Age of Radio" exists (you can get it on the Hello Starling deluxe edition), but I’m not a big fan of the studio version here.
DELUXE EDITION HIGHLIGHTS: Ritter re-recorded the entire album in 2008 with only his voice and an acoustic guitar. Given the fact that he had 8 years of additional experience under his belt at that point, most of the performances are far better. He sings in a higher key, and it sounds like he’s lived in these songs and that he has grown with them. "Golden Age of Radio" in particular is revelatory. "Don’t Wake Juniper" is a good b-side. The remixes of "The Other Side" and "Come And Fine Me" are both interesting.

see my other Josh Ritter reviews

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (4.5/5)
Consequence (3.5/5)
Consistency (3.5/5)
Concept (4.5/5)
Songs (4.5/5)

Quick Review (LP): So Runs The World Away by Josh Ritter

so runs the world away ritter Josh Ritter
So Runs The World Away
Pytheas; 2010

My Rating: B+

Best Tracks: “Change of Time”, “Southern Pacific”, “Lark”, “Long Shadows”, “Orbital”

The world may be running away, but Josh Ritter’s 6th LP finds him slowing things down. More meditative than Ritter’s past efforts, this record is no less dense with lyrical majesty and lush with orchestration. It’s not an “easy” album by any means, especially for those who have come to love Ritter especially for the big-hearted Americana of Hello Starling and The Animal Years. Nevertheless, it’s an album that asks you to surrender, with the payoff to follow. The poppiest songs (“Lark” and “Lantern”) are buried in the album’s mid-section, sandwiched between two of the record’s most obtuse tracks (“Folk Bloodbath” and “The Remnant”), and the rest of the record is more dream-like and/or cinematic than anything Ritter has come up with before. What we have here is a musician once heralded as a latter-day Dylan achieving a heartland synthesis of Simon and Springsteen. That’s an interesting development. So Runs the World Away may not grab you with the immediacy of some of Ritter’s past work, but with a little bit of patience you’ll see some real genius begin to unfold.

Paste review
Metacritic reviews