Music Reviews

Josh Ritter

Golden Age of Radio

Signature Sounds

The opening track on Josh Ritter’s second CD pulls up in the lo-fi acoustic neighborhood of Elliott Smith. It’s an intimate, unadorned performance complete with background room sounds. The Idaho-born Ritter isn’t blessed with as versatile a voice as Smith. It’s more of a monotone drawl somewhere in the vicinity of James McMurtry. But there is a lot of character there and over the course of Golden Age of Radio, Ritter proves to be a remarkably assured songwriter.

On a Saturday night in a town like this I forget all my songs about trains,” he sings on the rambling folk tune “Me And Jiggs.” “A bar with a jukebox and you on my arm, heaven and earth are pretty much the same.” Ritter has a nice eye for detail and even invokes the names of a few of his musical heroes along the way. “Sittin’ on the porch playing Townes Van Zandt / Play guitar to burn off the hours,” he sings. And on the title track, the record’s most upbeat and catchy, Ritter drawls against a pounding drumbeat: “I hear the ghost of Patsy Cline on the Grand Ole Opry show.” The song might fit nicely on the radio next to Pete Yorn.

Elsewhere, Ritter channels the ghost of Nick Drake on “You’ve Got the Moon.” Accompanied by accordion, he comes off like a rural Springsteen on “Lawrence, KS,” singing about a farmer who can’t seem to leave the life of “dirt roads and dryland farming” behind. And Ritter gets off some clever Westerbergian wordplay on “Other Side.” “I’m still waiting for the whiskey to whisk me away / I’m still waiting for the ashtray to lead me astray,” he muses.

Ritter seems equally adept at deceptively simple tunes like “Leaving” and “Roll On,” darkly pretty compositions like “Drive Away,” and more complex folk balladry like “Harrisburg.” “If evil exists it’s a pair of train tracks and the devil is a railroad car,” he sings on the latter.

It’s safe to say that if there were more literate, graceful songwriters like Josh Ritter around, a golden age of radio might not be out of the question.

Josh Ritter:

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