Release Date: Mar 5, 2013
Record label: Pytheas Recordings
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Josh RitterThe Beast In Its Tracks(Pytheas)Rating: 4 out of 5 stars Josh Ritter has built a sturdy career off the indirect love song. Ritter, who has never had much more to sell than a bright smile and a bunch of great songs, has always let his clever wordplay and literary sensibilities render and define his big-hearted romanticism. If man and woman fall in love at the end of the world, like in his signature “Temptation Of Adam,” their attraction is shrouded in metaphor and twisted into biblical allegory.
In 2011, Josh Ritter’s marriage ended. I don’t know why, and even though the Internet could probably tell me in a breathless nanosecond, I don’t feel compelled to find out. That’s their business. However, Ritter has released The Beast in Its Tracks and admitted upfront that it’s his break-up album, the result of an 18-month songwriting binge.
In the three years since Josh Ritter released So Runs the World Away, the singer-songwriter has divorced, published his first novel, fallen in love, had a run-in with death and become a father. The Beast in Its Tracks is a pause for reflection in a life lived at triple-speed; written in the midst of his separation from singer Dawn Landes, it's a gentle meditation on what it is to be rejected, and to love where love has flown, to feel lonely yet feel warmth towards the world outside oneself. It's a simpler album than World and its predecessor, Historical Conquests, the lyrics less elaborate, the music lilting and restrained.
Josh Ritter is a man of many faces. Now, it wouldn’t be as obvious without a lyric sheet in hand – in a compositional sense, the Idaho singer-songwriter has adroitly maintained a low profile as a barebones folk artist throughout his decade-long career. But that’s only what we hear in the foreground. Ritter has always emphasized the balance of telling stories with numerous factoids of American history – he’s given us a chilling illustration about the dangers of coal mining, sailed the frozen north in search of a New World, and cunningly protested against the anti-abolitionist bushwhacking raids that caused the Lawrence Massacre.
It's a bit trite to describe the new album from one of folk-rock's most respected singer-songwriters as "a break-up record," but the disintegration of Ritter's short-lived marriage clearly looms large over these songs. He portrays a rollercoaster ride of emotions, from anger and bitterness to regret and, thankfully, the eventual appearance of hope, of "coming out of the dark clouds," as he sings in an album highlight, "Hopeful. " Ritter remains one of our most perceptive and poetic lyricists, and that rich, warm voice still comforts you like hot chocolate on a cold winter's day.
Josh Ritter is a big picture kind of songwriter. Eschewing the confessional approach along with overtly personal lyrics, his last two albums were less about himself and more about all of America all at once, as though Ritter were reconstructing John Banvard's panoramic trip down the Mississippi. The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter and So Runs the World Away boast ambitious feats of songwriting and composition, yet his craft often undercut rather than underscored his headiest insights.