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): 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

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?

Josh Ritter: The Animal Years (2006)

JOSH RITTER
THE ANIMAL YEARS; 2006
V2 RECORDS
MY RATING 91/100
What can I say about this that Stephen King hasn’t already? THE ANIMAL YEARS proves once and for all that Josh Ritter is a monumental talent of the folk-rock art. I dare you to find a rotten track herein. While GOLDEN AGE OF RADIO and HELLO STARLING both had their moments, you know this is an altogether grander affair from the opening mandolin notes of “Girl in the War.” Ritter’s themes are transcendent with melodies to match, and Brian Deck’s production surrounds his songs in heavenly halo of sound. “Monster Ballads” is a transportingly exquisite driving song, while “Good Man” ranks among the best “let’s stay together” songs in the history of pop. Rounding all of it out with the joyfully propulsive (“Wolves”) and the mystically visceral (“Thin Blue Flame”), this is the type of record that any fan of Dylan, Van Morrison, or Wilco should have in constant rotation. My only complaint is that it’s not longer.
TRACKS
1. Girl in the War (5/5)
2. Wolves (5/5)
3. Monster Ballads (5/5)
4. Lillian, Egypt (5/5)
5. Idaho (4/5)
6. In the Dark (5/5)
7. One More Mouth (5/5)
8. Good Man (5/5)
9. Best for the Best (5/5)
10. Thin Blue Flame (5/5)
11. Here at the Right Time (5/5)

Josh-ritter-animal-yearsJosh Ritter
The Animal Years; 2006
V2 Records

My Rating: 91/100

What can I say about this that Stephen King hasn’t already? THE ANIMAL YEARS proves once and for all that Josh Ritter is a monumental talent of the folk-rock art. I dare you to find a rotten track herein. While GOLDEN AGE OF RADIO and HELLO STARLING both had their moments, you know this is an altogether grander affair from the opening mandolin notes of “Girl in the War.” Ritter’s themes are transcendent with melodies to match, and Brian Deck’s production surrounds his songs in heavenly halos of sound. “Monster Ballads” is a transportingly exquisite driving song, while “Good Man” ranks among the best “let’s stay together” songs in the history of pop. Rounding all of it out with the joyfully propulsive (“Wolves”, “Lillian, Egypt”) and the mystically visceral (“Thin Blue Flame”, “Idaho”), this is the type of record that any fan of Dylan, Van Morrison, or Wilco should have in constant rotation. My only complaint is that it’s not longer. A classic album of the early 21st century.

TRACKS

1. Girl in the War (5/5)
2. Wolves (5/5)
3. Monster Ballads (5/5)
4. Lillian, Egypt (5/5)
5. Idaho (4/5)
6. In the Dark (5/5)
7. One More Mouth (5/5)
8. Good Man (5/5)
9. Best for the Best (5/5)
10. Thin Blue Flame (5/5)
11. Here at the Right Time (5/5)