I first heard about this guy named Josh Ritter back in 2000 or 2001 on a little-known website called Audiogalaxy.com. Anyone? Bueller? It was basically a poor man’s Napster, with comments and suggestions from other music downloaders. I spent roughly 5,000 hours on the site, scouring it for music. This was long before music blogs like HearYa, so I was fending for myself in this vast music world, stumbling upon artists like John Mayer, Joseph Arthur, and Mofro based on other people’s comments.
That’s when I read a comment suggesting to download a song called “Me and Jiggs” by Josh Ritter. If I remember correctly, I think the comment said something like, “It’ll change your life.” They may have been right.
Flash forward several months and I’m seeing Josh Ritter for the first time at Schubas opening up for some guy guy I’m now embarrassed to say I saw live. Josh took the stage in front of 100 people, flashed a huge smile, professed how nervous he was, and asked the audience to scream with him so he could get his nerves out. He thanked the crowd over and over for being there.‚ It was incredibly endearing.
Now flash forward about 9 years to this past Saturday night. The lady friend and I buried some Mongolian chicken from Cooking Fools and headed up to The Vic just in time to catch Joe Pug’s solo set. Joe absolutely knocked it out of the park. Just an amazingly heartfelt set that sounded incredible in that big room.‚ Shirk (our live session producer) got there a little earlier than me, so we met at the balcony bar for a beer before Josh’s set. Shirk mentioned how Joe Pug admired Josh Ritter, so it must have been a thrill to open up for him. And when Ritter called Joe back out on stage during the encore to play “Speak Plainly Diana” (Joe’s own song) with The Royal City Band for the packed house…wow. It really showed how selfless and gracious Ritter really is.
When Ritter first stepped on stage, he approached the capacity crowd of 1300 the same way he did all those years earlier at Schubas – with thankfulness and a palpable giddiness. He was smiling ear to ear, jumping all over the stage in excitement between songs, and even banged out a couple pushups before “The Remnant.” And somewhere along the way he covered a heart-stopping version of Springsteen’s “The River.” Good heavens.
Songs from his new album, So Runs The World Away, dominated the set. And after listening to the album only a few times, I was happy to hear them in a live setting. The crowd had a little trouble getting up to speed on some of the singalong parts due to their newness, but Ritter sprinkled in plenty of old favorites too.
The live set confirmed that So Runs The World Away is fantastic.‚ It’s right on par with some of Ritter’s older work, and that’s saying something. This is his 5th proper release, and I’d challenge anyone to find a more consistent artist out there right now. Not only has the guy not released a single dud in his 10 year career, I’d venture to say he hasn’t released a single album that isn’t amazing.
So Runs the World Away is possibly Ritter’s most dense work to date, with more risks musically but while keeping his signature verbosity and lyrical complexity. This is a guy that makes Will Sheff’s songs sound like instrumentals. “The Curse” is the obvious standout track, with a storyline that makes you think “How in blazes did you even THINK of that?” Other standout tracks include “Lantern,” “Folk Bloodbath,” the Paul Simon-esque “Lark,” “Orbital,” and “Southern Pacifica.”
The entire thing is great. Definitely in my top 5 releases of the year so far. Check it out.
Live Video: Josh Ritter – The Curse (In Studio on WFUV)