by Ariana Pekary, producer
Josh Ritter has released seven studio albums over the past fourteen years, and you can pluck any of those early gems off the shelf and easily bet it’s only gotten better with age. In 2003’s “Snow is Gone,” he croons “I’d rather be the one who loved than to be loved and never even know.” That sentiment is echoed in one of the songs on his newest album, The Beast in Its Tracks. The opening line for “Hopeful” is “Supposedly it was a wise, wise man who said it’s better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all, never to have loved.”
What started as a divorce album for the singer-songwriter, turns out to be a new love album, made clear by the track “New Lover.” You can watch that simple, mesmerizing video and get an eyeful of his rapid fire lyrics tamped out on an old fashioned typewriter in this video.
In true Ritter fashion, he can sing about heart wrenching subjects, all with a smile on his face. And it seems he’s met his match this go round, based on this lovely line (also from “Hopeful”): “She has been through her own share of hard times as well/ And she has learned how to tear out the heaven from hell.” What more could you ask from love, life…or music?
It’s vintage Ritter, poetry that flows like stream-of-consciousness. Many songwriters strive their entire lives to dream up lyrics like the ones that seem to pour out of Josh effortlessly. “Kathleen” is one of those, and as he tells Bob, it came to him after staying up all night in Asbury Park. He remembers he’d played a show with The Frames, they went swimming (in the ocean?) and there was a fight in a Dunkin’ Donuts. He wound up sitting under a tree to write:
I know you are waiting and I know that it is not for me
but I’m here and I’m ready and I’ve saved you the passenger seat.
I won’t be your last dance, just your last goodnight –
every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied.
On the CD cover of The Beast in Its Tracks, Ritter says the songs “felt like rocks in the shoe, hard little nuggets of whatever they were, be it spite, remorse, or happiness.” True, there are many layers here for listeners with a variety of tastes.
Josh is on tour now. Find out when he’s going to be in your area here.
Until he arrives in the flesh, this might help keep you pacified: a concert performed for NPR Music.