Golden Age of Radio Album reviews.
Release Date: 01.22.02
Record label: Signature Sounds Recordings
Folk Ain't Dead After All
by: matt cibula
If I were a poppist, this 22-year-old singer/songwriter would be target #1. His voice isn't very beautiful, he doesn't make crass sexual innuendos or feature Ja Rule on a remix, he doesn't seem very interested in any music that's not old.country or mid-1960s Dylany folk-rock, and his songs seem to strive for a kind of timelessness that the poppists hate. Well, they have a point sometimes, but not in this case. Josh Ritter is a very original talent who has a knack for a hook and a flair for drama. Which is a good thing, dammit.
And which pretty much guarantees him diddley-squat here in the U.S., Ritter is a huge star in Ireland where they take their folk music seriously, and this album is proof that they're not insane to do so. You're not going to be able to listen to "Other Side" without wanting to buy an old beat-up acoustic guitar just so you can sing along with these genius lyrics: "I'm still waitin' for the whiskey to whisk me away / I'm still waitin' for the ashtray to lead me astray / Betwixt the cul-de-sacs and the one-way signs / I'm goin' round in circles on the other side." (The poppists hate genius lyrics.) And you're not going to be able to hear "Roll On" without hearing the ghost of early Springsteen (remember when he was a poet and wore one of those dopey cloth caps? he was so cool back then!) rising again. (The poppists really hate Springsteen, in all his incarnations.)
Some stuff is straight-up country (he doesn't name-check Townes Van Zandt and Patsy Cline for nothing), and some of it is straight-up folk ("You've Got the Moon"), and it's clear that young Ritter has never felt the urge to choose between the two. Compare the two city songs: "Lawrence, KS" would be #1 in Nashville if Nashville was still Nashville, but "Harrisburg" sounds more like Dylan auditioning in a Greenwich Village club before his first album appeared. (Okay, Dylan with a dobro and some ambient keyboard touches and a great solo on guitar or something. But you get me: the dude actually says "The devil is a railway car." That's country.) And then there are tunes that are somewhere inbetween folk and country: "Come and Find Me" is on some kind of emo/Tim Buckley tip, and "Drive Away" is the best ballad John Mellencamp ever failed to record.
This is just some really great music that happens to be kind of on the mellow side, done by a kid who knows his stuff. The songs have hooks that seem gentle at first, but some of them (the chorus to the title song, the Radiohead-like chord progression on "Anne") will remain imbedded in you for well, weeks, apparently. That's what's happened to me. And, unless you're the poppiest poppist that ever burnt out a transistor radio, that's what'll happen to you with this record. 11-Nov-2002 1:15 PM