LP Review: The Animal Years by Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter
The Animal Years
V2; 2005

My Rating: A+ (98/100)

Best Tracks: "Girl In The War", "Wolves", "Monster Ballads", "Lillian, Egypt", "Good Man", "In The Dark", "Thin Blue Flame"

Cosmic American Music to make Gram Parsons weep with jealousy.

TRACK NOTES

"Girl In The War" (5/5)

  • "The keys to the kingdom got locked inside the kingdom/And the angels fly around in there but we can’t see them"
  • Chills. So good.

"Wolves" (5/5)

  • This is my all-time favorite Josh Ritter song.
  • What more can I say?

"Monster Ballads" (5/5)

  • This is runner up for all-time favorite Josh Ritter song.
  • "Monster ballads and the stations of the cross" has to be one of the richest lyrical snippets I’ve ever heard. Just brilliant.
  • Good grief, there’s the chills again. You just have to hear this song. So amazing.

"Lillian, Egypt" (5/5)

  • Clever video for this one.
  • Love how he uses Mark Twain’s literary voice here.
  • This is the point where he officially sounded like a pro. Hello Starling was good, but this is galactic.
  • Love the piano solo.

"Idaho" (4/5)

  • Was it a misstep to make this vocals only? I don’t know. I go back and forth. In one sense, it makes for a nice interlude of sorts, esp. with the first four songs being as rich as a Snickers bar fried in chocolate butter.
  • That being said, I’d love to hear the original version, with the acoustic guitar a bit louder. I think it’s a better song than my score here.

"In the Dark" (5/5)

  • "They started looking for you/In the darker caves"

"One More Mouth" (5/5)

  • "All the other moths need light to circle round/You just fly around yourself"

"Good Man" (5/5)

  • Can I give this 6/5? So good.
  • In what evil mirror universe are we living where this song is not standard radio fare?

"Best for the Best" (5/5)

  • Beautiful and understated.

"Thin Blue Flame" (5/5)

  • "Allow me to demonstrate my epic awesomeness," he said.

"Here at the Right Time" (5/5)

  • Love the timbre of the piano on this one.

ALBUM NOTES

  • I’ve already said it here. This one is a classic, hands down, one of the best albums ever.

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (5/5)
Consistency (5/5)
Songs (4.91/5)

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): Josh Ritter by Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter
Josh Ritter
Self-Released; 1999

My Rating: C (49/100)

Best Tracks: "Leaves and Kings", "Beautiful Night", "Potter’s Wheel", "Letter from Omaha"

A shaky debut that holds more interest as an historical document than an enjoyable record.

NOTES
– Well, it sounds amateur-ish, but it’s certainly above average amateur work.
– Three names always get thrown around with Ritter: Dylan, Prine, and Cohen. They are perhaps most typified here, where he seems as if he’s imitating them distinctively on specific tracks.
– I wonder what this collection of songs would sound like re-recorded with Ritter’s current band? Could be an interesting experiment.
– I think Ritter took the Dylan route more than the Prine route, and I think that was a good thing for him. Witness "Angels On Her Shoulders."
– Like the cello on "Potter’s Wheel."
– Does Ritter ever play these songs live anymore? He didn’t when I saw him last year.
– Overall, there are some promising tunes here, but as I said before, this certainly sounds like a (talented) kid discovering his guitar and voice for the first time. Greener pastures awaited him.

ATTRIBUTES
Concept (3/5)
Consistency (4/5)
Consequence (3/5)
Cohesion (4/5)
Songs (3.5/5)

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

Quick Review (LP): Sweetheart Rodeo by Dawn Landes

Sweetheart Rodeo - Dawn LandesDawn Landes
Sweetheart Rodeo
Essential Music; 2010

My Rating:  C+

Best Tracks: “Romeo”, “Little Miss Holiday”

Coming on the heels of the excellent urbanicana folk of 2007’s FIREPROOF, my expectations were high for this one. Unfortunately, it was a letdown. That’s not to say this is a bad record; it probably says more about the greatness of FIREPROOF. Landes plays very “low-key” music, and this time around it doesn’t have the staying power of FIREPROOF tracks like “Bodyguard” and “You Alone”, or even the ridiculously catchy stand-alone single “Straight Lines”. Folk music seems to go best with a lot of heart-on-sleeve, but SWEETHEART finds our leading lady a little too level-headed. I guess I’ll hold out for another great record the next time around.

Paste review
Artist website
Artist Myspace

Best Breezes: 2010/05/10 – 2010/05/16

Best Breezes brings you the most notable threads of the past week in great music…

Jason Noble Benefits Spell Reunions from Cerebellum, others…

This weekend saw several benefit shows in my hometown of Louisville, KY for Jason Noble of Rachel’s, Shipping News, and Rodan fame.  Not too far back, Jason was diagnosed with cancer, and the outpouring of support over the last few months serves as a better tribute to him than I can possibly do here.

The big name to reunite was of course Endpoint, who played together for the first time since 1994. Sunspring joined them on Friday night, also for the first time since 1994. The biggest deal for me though was Cerebellum, who played together for the first time since 1989. Cerebellum morphed into Crain, who were one of the greatest bands to come out of Louisville and recorded the classic album Speed.

Cerebellum were great in their own right, charged through with youthfulness and optimism. Their sole release, a self-titled cassette on Slamdek Records, has gotten the re-release treatment on Noise Pollution, with the added bonus of five newly recorded “oldies.” To give you some idea of how awesome this is, it is sort of like Minor Threat getting back together and recording some early, proto-Fugazi tracks.

Check out Cerebellum playing “Calm” here…



New Arcade Fire on the way…

All the music websites were abuzz with the possiblity of a new record from Arcade Fire. Nothing particularly concrete yet, but the band’s website definitely alludes to something big coming our way soon

Free Josh Ritter concert…

The Frontloader has a complete audio recording of Josh Ritter’s 5/8/2010 performance at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. Band sounds great, Josh sounds great, recording sounds great. Why don’t you have this yet?

Lala shutdown

Major bummerooski as Lala.com announces that it is closing its door for good. This was by far the most useful website to come along in, well, ever…I hope something comes along to take its place soon.

Wax Fang rising

Wax Fang are a sort of prog-punk from Louisville, featuring drummer Kevin Ratterman, formerly of Elliott. It sounds like they are making a huge buzz on the international scene right now, and they have just re-released their only full-length LP, La La Land, on Absolutely Kosher Records. Check them out here:

New Low Anthem track...

Brought to us by HearYa…live video of a new track from The Low Anthem, “I’ll Take Out Your Ashes.”

Is it just me, or is 2010 turning out to be the best year for music in recent memory?

Back Tracks: Josh Ritter Rarities Mix

In tribute to the release of his 6th album today, here’s a little mix I put together celebrating some of Josh Ritter’s best back tracks:

Josh Ritter
Overnite

1. Good Man (live)
2. Blame It On the Tetons
3. Spot In My Heart
4. Peter Killed the Dragon
5. Kathleen (live)
6. In the Dark (demo)
7. Naked as a Window
8. Girl In the War (live)
9. You Don’t Make It Easy Babe (live)
10. Bandits (live)
11. Golden Age of Radio (live)
12. Harbortown
13. Wolves (live)
14. Overnite
15. Monster Ballads (early version)
16. Daddy’s Little Pumpkin (live)
17. Labelship Down
18. Peter Killed the Dragon (live)
19. Wildfires
20. Snow Is Gone (live)
21. Girl In the War (live)

What are your favorite “lost” Ritter tracks?

5 Reasons: “So Runs the World Away” by Josh Ritter

5 Reasons I’m looking forward to Josh Ritter’s new album So Runs the World Away:

– This is the guy who made The Animal Years, one of the best albums of the last decade.
– He’s now happily married to another excellent songwriter, Dawn Landes. One would hope this spells good things for his songwriting.
– He just previewed a few of these songs during a Daytrotter session, and they sound great.
– I was not completely enamored with his last album, “Historical Conquests.” Usually, that means I REALLY like the artists’ next album. See Wilco (A Ghost Is Born => Sky Blue Sky), Radiohead (Hail to the Thief => In Rainbows)…
– He’s been re-recording his back catalog in solo acoustic mode. The process of getting back to basics tends to improve a songwriter’s artistry.

So Runs the World Away is out May 4th on Pytheas.

Are you looking forward to this album? Why or why not?