Josh Ritter

We mentioned Josh Ritter’s classy move this past Saturday at his show at The Vic in Chicago.‚  Josh invited Chicago’s folk pride and joy, Joe Pug, on stage during his encore to perform “Speak Plainly, Diana,” the closer from Joe Pug’s latest album, Messenger.

One of yesterday’s readers, Mandy, posted a comment with a link to a video that was sent out in Joe’s newsletter with his quote: “Sharing a stage with him was, personally, momentous.”

HearYa had set up shop in the balcony that night and Shirk captured a video of the same song. You can see it here.

Live Video: Joe Pug w/ Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band

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Ritter

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.

Josh Ritter – The Curse (via I Guess I’m Floating)

Live Video: Josh Ritter – The Curse (In Studio on WFUV)

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Josh Ritter’s Curse [new mp3]

by oz on April 28, 2010

I wasn’t aware of Ritter’s emotional struggles in writing his upcoming album. He goes into detail, wearing his heart on his sleeve via his website.‚  Here’s an excerpt:

After my last record, Historical Conquests, a feeling came stealing over me that I had a reckoning in store. It was a new feeling, sinister in its emptiness, and it fell across me like a cold shadow. After almost a decade on the road, my life seemed as if it had become the one I always dreamed of; I was playing shows, living the charmed existence of a writer who has worked very hard and been very lucky. Still, the shadow was there, and I knew it had found me for a reason. I knew that I would have to wrestle it eventually. In the meantime though, in the words of Muriel Spark, I went on my way rejoicing. Then one day the shadow fell across me and stayed there. You know what that’s like. Anyone who loves to do something and then, one day, finds no joy in it, knows what that’s like. I suppose I could say I was burned out, but it wasn’t that; I wanted to write and I wanted to play, but nothing, nothing felt right to me anymore. Even more than that, nothing felt original. Suddenly, after all my effort, I had lost my confidence in the force and originality of my own work. I wrote and wrote. Nothing came and if it did, it was the same old stuff as before. My old songs came ringing back, silly, bereft to my ears of their original love or intent. I felt at times as if I was hovering just above myself, watching the mediocrity of my afternoon threatening to spread across months and years into a lost decade. And with nothing to show for myself would anyone ever believe how hard I had worked? The shadow hung and I held on, hoping for a single verse of something, anything at all that I could love.

I think we can all identify with his feelings, but I can’t imagine the pressure an artist or musician must feel when they know their livelihood is at stake. The pressure mounts, panic sets in, vision gets clouded, and the downward spiral begins. It’s probably like Tin Cup getting the yips.

Anyway, I’m glad he eventually snapped out of the funk, because it’s been two long years since Ritter’s last release, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, and I’m in Tom Sizemore sized withdrawal right now.‚  “The Curse” was posted on I Guess I’m Floating, and you’d think the song was about this back story. Nope. It’s about a mummy falling in love with an archaeologist.

So Runs The World Away is out next week.

Josh Ritter – The Curse (via I Guess I’m Floating)

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josh ritter

Josh Ritter recently announced the upcoming release date for his next album So Runs The World Away. It’ll be out in the States on May 4th and he’s offered up a free mp3 via his website! You can also enter your email here and you’ll get the mp3 delivered to your inbox.

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