Ritter Rocks Out on New Album

By Barry Strauss
Staff Writer

Josh Ritter, a 31-year-old Idaho native who holds a degree in history from Oberlin College, has released his fifth studio album, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. Ritter is considered to be a folk-rock singer/songwriter who has benefited from positive reviews and a loyal fan base, yet has remained under the mainstream radar until a recent performance on David Letterman in January 2008.

Born in 1976, Ritter bought his first guitar after hearing the Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash classic, “Girl From the North Country.”  To date, he has appeared on many stages across the country, such as the Newport Folk Festival in 2002 and Bonnaroo in 2005.  He has also headlined with big-named artists such as Joan Baez, who later released her own version of Ritter’s song “Wings.”

The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, Ritter’s  most popular album to date, consists of proposed story telling, philosophical views, and of course many historical references and comparisons to the likes of Joan of Arc, Calamity Jane, and Florence Nightingale.  The album begins with a song called “To the Dogs or Whoever,” which boasts a fast tempo with well written lyrics and a catchy chorus, backed by drums, a bass guitar, and an organ.

The rest of the album is much on the same wave, with well articulated song writing and simple but elegant arrangements of a variety of instruments.  On a track called “Right Moves,” Ritter questions an ex-lover and himself in reflecting on the past and the future in terms of a decision made, and a decision he is currently struggling with.  This struggle makes an empathetic case for anyone who has ever felt the pure and frustrating feelings of the reoccurring remnants of a person who was once so close.  “Am I making all the right moves? / Am I singing you the right blues?/ Is there a time when I can call you, just to see how you are doing?”
A softer and slower ballad which is possibly the best written selection on the album is “The Temptation of Adam.”  It encompasses strings, muted horns, and a bass clarinet that succumbs over the melancholy tone of Ritter’s voice and acoustic plucking.  The song is a fictitious yet haunting story in which the narrator finds love in the most improbable setting, a missile silo in WWIII.  As the song roles on from love to angst, the narrator is engulfed with worries of not losing his life but rather, even more catastrophic to him, his one true love.  “As our time grows short I get a little nervous/ I think about the Big One, W.W. I.I.I./ Would we ever really care the world had ended?/ You could hold me here forever like you’re holding me tonight/ I look at that great big red button and I’m tempted.”

Ritter is a man on the rise, and if you have not heard his name until now, I have no regret or reservations in saying that this will not be the last time you hear it. The lyrical bases and depth of this man are undeniably incredible and not only historical in reference to our past, but may be historical in the very real possibility of him making a well deserved mark on it himself.  You can check out Ritter on www.myspace.com/joshritter, or on his band website, www.joshritter.com

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