Josh Ritter: So Runs the World Away

I mentioned Josh Ritter last week in the context of his 2007 album, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. It was my favorite album of 2007, and I have been anxiously awaiting the follow up ever since. That day has finally come into view as Josh’s new record, So Runs the World Away, is set for release in less than two weeks (May 4).

I’ve had the pleasure of listening to an advanced copy of the album for a little over a week now, and I am pleased to announce that this disc has been well worth the wait. So Runs the World Away isn’t quite as bombastic as the previous record, but it is no less compelling. This time it’s the stories Josh tells that draw you in with their complex narratives of love, exploration, and isolation. Josh says he didn’t so much write these songs as paint them in oil on large canvases.
The album begins as the curtain is drawn on the exhibit with the short overture “Curtains.” From there Josh immediately launches into “Change of Time” and his own personal dreamscape with visions of swimming through the stars while ships lay bashed and broken in the sea below. As the song builds, a cyclical piano riff forms the base of the sound as cymbals crash and the chorus swells. The whole thing combines to create a Dali-like abstraction. Similarly, our narrator in “Southern Pacifica” is leaving his love behind to embark on an adventure into what I can only imagine to be a Bierstadt-like wilderness.
The exhibit continues with “The Curse,” a tragic love song told in hieroglyphics. The gentle piano ballad tells of a mummy who awakens from centuries of slumber to find love in the arms of the female archeologist who discovered him. When he awakens, he believes his curse has been lifted. As he watches his new love age and fade away, however, he realizes that his cure has cursed him once more.
And the epic tales of death and despair keep coming. “Another New World” is similarly tender and tragic tale of a shipwrecked expedition. The narrator is an explorer who’s entire world is held within the hull of his ship, The Annabelle Lee. He is devoted to her totally, and it nearly kills him when he has to burn her planks to keep himself alive. The ominously titled “Folk Bloodbath” lives up to its name as well. Here, Josh rounds up several tragic figures from classic murder ballads such as Delia and Stack-O-Lee and has them all meet their fate once more.
Of course, there are less depressing moments too. The two most upbeat tunes on the album immediately follow the murderousness of “Bloodbath.” “Lark” finds Josh with a little hop in his step and diamonds on the soles of his shoes as he channels Paul Simon from the Graceland album. “Lantern” follows with chiming guitars and a plea for someone special to light his life.
Overall, the exhibit that Josh has curated over these thirteen tracks is truly one worth seeing. Josh is a folk singer at heart (his songs are the proof of that), but he works with a more varied palette than most other singer/songwriters. Here, he proves himself the equal of any of the old Masters.
Josh will be performing in Knoxville May 14th at The Bijou Theatre. Here’s a track from the album that I didn’t talk about…
Josh Ritter: Rattling Locks (Buy Album)

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