Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Josh Ritter - So Runs The World Away

Release Date: May 4, 2010
Label: Pytheas Recordings

I figure it's about time to review a Josh Ritter album... Why not start with his latest?  I've been listening to Ritter for about a year, and by this point, I think I'd say he's my favorite folk musician, and my favorite lyricist.

Ritter, raised in Moscow, Idaho, got his start in the late nineties, when he recorded his self-titled debut while attending school.  He's never had a huge mainstream following, but he has received plenty of critical acclaim.  The reissued versions of his earlier albums have celebrity forewords, and Stephen King called his fourth album, The Animal Years, his favorite album of 2006.  His fifth album, The Historical Conquest of Josh Ritter, sees the addition of electric guitars (and a rougher sound in general), which was quite a departure from his earlier work.

I purchased So Runs The World Away shortly after its release, making it the first Josh Ritter album I purchased at the time of its original release.

So Runs The World Away is a little more textured than his previous album.  It starts out with a short musical intro, which leads to a mildly bombastic folk anthem, Change of Time.  Following that is a dreamy acoustic guitar-heavy folk tune called The Curse.  This beautifully written tune, about a mummy coming to life in NYC, perfectly highlights Josh's lyrical ability, with its elaborate imagery:

She carries him home in a beautiful boat
He watches the sea from a porthole in stowage
He can hear all she says as she sits by his bed
And one day his lips answer her in her own language
The days quickly pass he loves making her laugh
The first time he moves it’s her hair that he touches
She asks, “Are you cursed?” he says, “I think that I’m cured”
Then he talks of the Nile and the girls in bulrushes
The next track, Southern Pacifica, is one of my favorites, and probably the most immediately grabbing.  With a nice smooth feel and a catchy chorus, this one could become a hit if given the right exposure.  This is followed up by Rattling Locks, a rougher tune with semi-spoken vocals and lyrics about giving up on a love interest:

I had a dream that I was dying
But it wasn’t a nightmare I was real peaceful as I fell
And if I was falling into heaven
Heaven must be hotter than the Bible tells
I woke up sorry I was living
Rather than rattling your locks I rather spend another night in Hell
 Folk Bloodbath is a great example of Ritter's storytelling ability.  Borrowing the refrain from Mississippi John Hurt, it is a slow, sad ballad in which several characters die.  The next track, Lark, another one of my favorites, is an up-tempo, acoustic guitar-based folk song with beautifully textured instrumental depth during the chorus, and perfectly placed vocal harmonies.  This one is a happy song:

What is it drives the driven snow?
Upon whose temples will I rest my weary hopes now?
The rain distills down steeples fills the ears of lonely church mice with the
Heartbeat of a lark or the lark in my heartbeat

I am assured yes I am assured yes
I am assured peace will come to me
A peace that can yes surpass the speed yes
Of my understanding and my need
This is followed by another anthem, Lantern, with a guitar part only slightly reminiscent of U2, and an infectious melody.  This one is sure to be a crowd favorite.

Tell me what’s the point of light
That you have to strike a match to find?
The next track, The Remnant, is dominated by a staccato piano and drum beat.  Not a terrible track, but for me, it's easily one of the weaker cuts on this album.  This is followed by See How Man Was Made, a soft, peaceful interlude leading into what may be considered the album's centerpiece, Another New World.  This lengthy, brooding track is a fantastical account of an attempted exploration of the North Pole, and the soft texture of his voice and the music perfectly captures the dreariness of the lyrics.  Musically, it's not particularly interesting, but this song is a veritable study in tone.

Following this is another anthemic piece, Orbital.  This is another easy to listen to track, and lyrically it's one of my favorites:

The hawk around the field mouse
The love around a lover’s mouth
I find my mind is settling down
In circuits round you
The angels round their crowded pins
The amber-waved electrons spin
In planetary transits
Round the ones they’re bound to
 The final track, Long Shadows, finally brings it back to more traditional folk, and excellent way to wrap up the album.

This album's greatest accomplishment is it's coherence.  Everything flows well, and you get the sense that it's arranged how it needs to be arranged.  It's one of Ritter's best.  Only his third album, Hello Starling surpasses it.   At this point, I'd rate it as my third favorite of the year.  This album has staying power, and I enjoy it as much now, seven months after its release, as I did when I bought it.

2Change of Time4:07
3The Curse5:00
4Southern Pacifica4:22
5Rattling Locks4:28
6Folk Bloodbath5:19
9The Remnant4:02
10See How Man Was Made3:27
11Another New World7:39
13Long Shadows2:24


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