Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Josh Ritter - The Animal Years - 2006

That more people haven't heard of Josh Ritter still kind of amazes me. The man puts out consistently great albums, tours incessantly, wrote a book and is just generally a nice guy, and yet, loads of people have never heard of him.

Ritter's music is a blend of folk and rock, with a certain on-the-road feel to it, giving him an almost out-of-time feel, like he's some guy with a guitar riding the railroad across the country, playing songs at stops whenever the train stops to load or unload, like a vagabond troubadour around the turn of the century, or someone in the early days of radio. His first major label effort, "The Animal Years," certainly reflects that sort of feel.

What's amazing is how timeless "The Animal Years" feels, even though a good portion of it is about the Iraq war. Despite the fact that a number of these songs were relating to current events, they're folded in an elegant metaphorical language, full of anachronistic references and oblique meanings. Take "Girl In The War," which references Peter and Paul at the pearly gates, as well as Laurel and Hardy. And the song is full of righteous anger, too. "The angels fly around in there, but we can't see them/I got a girl in the war, Paul I know that they can hear me yell/If they can't find a way to help her they can go to Hell."

That sort of haunting poetry is abundant on the album, and it's colored with instrumentation that varies from simple to complex.

For me, though, there are two songs that are absolute must-hears on the album. The first is the the epic "Thin Blue Flame," that clocks in over nine minutes in length, a dusty trail song that builds and builds and builds like the last stretch of daylight blossoming into a starry night with a full moon draping the evening in shimmering light. I love songs like this, that just keep adding bit after bit, until you realize a whole song has erupted around you.

There's no getting past it, though. The absolute heart of the album is the song, "Good Man," one of my favorite songs not just by Josh, but by anyone. It's a song that skips along, more uptempo than much of the album, but that just makes it all hang together even more.

Later albums from Josh Ritter have all had great songs, but if you want the best cohesive album, start here.

No comments: