Archive for the Josh Ritter Category

Best of 2010: 9-7

Posted in Jason and the Scorchers, Jason Ringenberg, Josh Ritter, Kasey Chambers, Top 21 of 2010 on December 28, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

#9 – Halcyon Times by Jason & The Scorchers

If People. Places. Things. by Drunk on Crutches was my favorite surprise of 2010, then Halcyon Times by Jason & The Scorchers may have been my most anticipated album of the year.  You see, prior to this release, it had been 14 years since an album carried the Scorchers’ name.  Front man Jason Ringenberg had remained active with his solo career and Farmer Jason persona, but most people thought this hugely influential band (The Scorchers were mixing punk and country years before Uncle Tupelo… and they did it in the heart of Nashville) had run its course.  A lifetime achievement award reunited the group in 2008, and this album followed two years later.

Ringenberg and guitarist Warner Hodges are the only two original members involved in this record, but there’s no mistaking this is a Jason & The Scorchers disc.  Ringenberg’s distinctive vocal twang and Hodges’ revved up riffs were always the signature of the band, and both are present in spades on tunes like the album opening “Moonshine Guy/Releasing Celtic Prisoners” and the nostalgic “Golden Days.”  What makes this one really stand out, however, is the sense of maturity present in the album’s quieter moments.  The coal mining anthem “Beat on the Mountain” and the working man’s lament “Mother of Greed” lend a little gravitas to the proceedings.

Jason & The Scorchers: Moonshine Guy/Releasing Celtic Prisoners (Buy Album)

#8 – Little Bird by Kasey Chambers

OK.  I’m cheating a little by including this one (It isn’t the first time).  As is her usual practice, Kasey Chambers has released her new CD Little Bird in her native Australia several months before releasing it in the US.  This strategy gives her the chance to properly tour and promote her album at home (where she is a huge star) before leaving to promote it here.  Because of this, Little Bird will likely bear a 2011 release date when it hits the states, even though I got it from iTunes in September.  Given the impact Chambers’ music has had on my life, I thought I could bend the rules for her.

Musically, Little Bird isn’t quite as rootsy as 2008’s Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson album Rattlin’ Bones (although tracks like “Georgia Brown” come close).  It also isn’t as shiny and polished as 2006’s Carnival (although tracks like the title song come close).  What makes this album so solid is that it marries all of Chambers’ rock, pop, and country influences together in a way that she hasn’t done since Barricades & Brickwalls.  In fact, songs like the guitar driven “This Story” and the mournful “Somewhere” (with Patty Griffin) would have fit in well on that album.  That’s a pretty high compliment in my book.

Kasey Chambers: This Story (Buy Album)

#7 – So Runs the World Away by Josh Ritter

I was first introduced to the music of Idaho’s Josh Ritter through his 2003 album Hello Starling (his third), and have been enthralled by his songs ever since.  “Kathleen” from that album may contain my favorite opening line for a song ever (“All the other girls here are stars./You are the Northern Lights.”), he delivered my favorite album of 2007 (The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter), and now he has provided another strong offering with So Runs the World Away.  With it he proves that he’s one of the strongest songwriters working today.

And songwriting is at the core of what makes this album special.  Ritter tackles some high-concept ideas on a few songs here and pulls them off beautifully.  The mummy love story set to a waltz in “The Curse,” the classic murder ballad character reunion in “Folk Bloodbath,” and the epic maritime tragedy of “Another New World” all take narrative chances and all come out beautifully.  Combine that with songs like the trippy dreamscape of “Change of Time,” the lilting Graceland inspired “Lark,” and the travelogue of “Southern Pacifica,” and you have a particularly well-rounded album.

Josh Ritter: Another New World (Buy Album)

Free Music Monday: Tift, Heathens, Ritter, Darlins…

Posted in Band of Heathens, Bill Monroe, Josh Ritter, Those Darlins, Tift Merritt on September 13, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

The sign Those Darlins are standing in front of says “SALE,” but today I’m here to offer you free music. Lately, my inbox has been full of announcements from big-time Americana artists telling of free downloads they are offering on their websites. Simply follow the links ahead and download (completely free) live tracks and new tunes from Those Darlins, The Band of Heathens, Tift Merritt, and Josh Ritter.

Those Darlins have been working on the follow up to their self-titled debut album and will soon release a 7″ vinyl single as a preview of the new project. You can listen to two songs from the 7″ and download the new song “Night Jogger” at their website.
As I learned recently from our friends The Gobbler’s Knob, The Band of Heathens have offered another free download on their site. This time, it’s their version of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ classic “Sin City.”
Tift Merritt’s record label is offering four songs for free download on their site. Go here for live versions of “Mixtape” and “Engine to Turn” from her new album and studio versions of “Broken” and “Feel of the World.”
Finally, Josh Ritter and his wife Dawn Landes are sharing their version of a Heady West tune called “500 Miles” (not The Proclaimers’ song) to commemorate the beginning of their European tour. Get it here.

To end the post on a completely unrelated note… Today is the birthday of the father of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe. Monroe was born Sept. 13, 1911 in the small Western Kentucky town of Rosine.

Today, Monroe is known for giving birth to a style of music that is distinctly American and Appalachian. He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award Winner, and a National Medal of Arts recipient. He served as an undeniable influence on any number of musicians who came after him, and helped launch the careers of other bluegrass luminaries such as Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Don Reno, Vassar Clements, Jimmy Martin, Del McCoury, and many others who served apprenticeships under him as members of his Bluegrass Boys.
Bill Monroe passed away in 1996, but his music and his influence continue to live on.
Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys: Blue Moon of Kentucky (Buy Album)

Random Weekend Post: Josh Ritter, Mummies, and Puppets…

Posted in Josh Ritter on May 29, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

This is absolutely amazing…

It turns out that Josh Ritter’s drummer, Liam Hurley, is also a puppeteer. Hurley has performed and directed this mesmerizing video for Ritter’s song of doomed romance, “The Curse.”

Concert Review: Joe Pug & Josh Ritter

Posted in Joe Pug, Josh Ritter on May 18, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

This picture of Josh Ritter was not taken Friday night in Knoxville… but it just as easily could have been. You see that expression on Ritter’s face? The one full of energy, emotion, and sheer exuberance? It’s a look he wore through most of his set Friday night at the Bijou Theatre.

I’ll get to Ritter’s set in a bit, but I first need to tell you about the captivating opening set turned in by Chicago singer/songwriter Joe Pug. Pug is an artist I’ve seen getting lots of recognition around the blogosphere for some time now, but I never really took the time to explore his music until I found out he was coming to town. Once I did, I started listening to… and immediately fell in love with… his new album Messenger. His literate songwriting and sparse arrangements combined to make the kind of record that demands your full attention. Joe Pug does not make background music.
For his set Friday night, Pug did his entire performance in a solo acoustic fashion… just vocals, guitar, and harmonica. In this setting, Pug comes off as a pre-plugged-in Bob Dylan, relying on the power of his words rather than the complexity of his performance to enthrall the crowd. It seemed to work as the crowd met each of his tunes with ample applause and remained deathly silent during his actual performances. Hearing Pug’s songs in the wonderful space that is the Bijou Theatre only solidified my respect for him as an artist and served as a perfect lead in for what was to come.
After his set, I met Pug at his merch table and picked up a copy of his debut EP Nation of Heat. Like his live set, Heat is a fully acoustic experience, and I’d like to share one of the tracks from it with you here.
Joe Pug: Hymn 35 (Buy Album)
Now… Josh Ritter. I’ve had opportunities to see him perform in the past, but horrific weather and other events have always conspired to keep me from catching his show. That’s one reason I was so excited for Friday night’s show. The other reason is that Ritter is simply one of the most phenomenally talented songwriters working today in any genre.
He made that immediately apparent by kicking off the show with the the travelogue “Southern Pacifica” from his new album So Runs the World Away. Ritter and his band created beautiful soundscapes as each song led the audience on some new adventure. Whether visiting the Western frontier in “Southern Pacifica,” the Arctic Circle in “Another New World,” or Ritter’s own personal dreamscape in “Change of Time,” the audience was transported along for the ride.
The amazing thing about the night, though, was that Ritter seemed to be enjoying the voyage as much as, if not more than, any of the 700 or so patrons who had bought tickets for the journey. Ritter could hardly contain his energies and enthusiasm on the more upbeat numbers. Fan favorites such as “Rumours,” “To the Dogs or Whoever,” and “Wolves” all found him bouncing around the stage and almost laughing as he delivered some of the lyrics. You could even pick up a smile here and there as Ritter gave readings of two of his darker songs… the tragic love story of “The Curse” and the multiple-murder ballad “Folk Bloodbath.” In fact, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an artist smile as much during a show as I did Friday night.
Ritter’s joy filled every aspect of his set and led to one memorable evening. I don’t think I stopped smiling myself until well after the show was over.
This is a live track from Ritter’s Live at the Record Exchange EP that came out a few years ago. It’s a solo track without the band, but I think it still gives a good feel of the energy he can bring to a performance.
Josh Ritter: Wolves (Buy Album)

Josh Ritter: So Runs the World Away

Posted in Josh Ritter on April 23, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

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)

Josh Ritter: The Temptation of Adam

Posted in Josh Ritter on April 13, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

Josh Ritter is coming to Knoxville May 14 for a show at the Bijou Theatre. Thanks to my wife, who was online early the day the tickets went on sale, I will be seated in the second row at the Bijou that night.

In preparation for the show (and Josh’s upcoming album due May 4), I’ve been spending quite a lot of time with Josh’s previous catalogue of tunes. Specifically, I keep returning to his 2007 effort The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. I was not yet blogging in 2007, but if I had been, I would have listed this album as my favorite of the year… and my favorite of Josh’s career.
One reason for that is because of songs like the one I’m sharing today, “The Temptation of Adam.” It’s your standard, boy meets girl… boy and girl are forced to live together in nuclear missile silo in prelude to WWIII… boy and girl fall in love… nuclear tensions ease… boy fears losing girl in the outside world… boy considers starting WWIII so he can continue to be sequestered in nuclear missile silo with girl, song.
See… pretty standard stuff.
Ritter’s genius here is taking a far fetched premise and making it work by grounding the farcical in the mundane. His protagonists work crossword puzzles together, share corny jokes, and carve their initials into the missile warhead. They could just as easily be carving them on a tree in the park.
It’s a brilliant song, and one that’s been running through my head since hearing it again earlier this week.
Josh Ritter: The Temptation of Adam (Buy Album)

Hump Day Notes: New Josh Ritter, New Brandi Carlile, and More

Posted in Brandi Carlile, Dawn Landes, jenny lewis, Josh Ritter, Rilo Kiley on February 10, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

It’s time for some mid-week notes…

***This qualifies as old news by this point as the official release went out on Monday… but it’s still news that I’m excited about.

Josh Ritter has completed work on his new album, So Runs the World Away. The release date here in the U.S. is May 4th (my birthday is May 3rd if any readers want to pitch in and get me a copy). This is Josh’s first full release since 2007’s The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, and he says he’s extremely proud of the songs on the new record. He’s never made a bad one to my ears, and I’m almost giddy with the thoughts of new music from one of my favorite artists.

You can view a brief video and download a free track from So Runs the World Away at Josh’s website. “Change of Time” sounds like a perfect introduction to the new album.

Josh Ritter: Change of Time (Sign up for Josh’s mailing list)

***I learned recently in this post from High Noon Saloon that Dawn Landes is Josh Ritter’s wife. I somehow failed to notice that when I first mentioned Dawn here a few weeks ago.

Warren’s review of Dawn’s new album, Sweetheart Rodeo, is much more in depth than the brief one I put up… so I suggest you just go read that one. His assessment of the album is pretty much spot on anyway. While you do that, you can listen to one of the more country inspired tracks on the album.

Dawn Landes: Sweetheart Rodeo (Buy Album)

***Rilo Kiley’s long time drummer Jason Boesel granted an interview to Paste Magazine last week in which he says new music is on the way from everyone’s favorite indie band fronted by child actors. Well… not completely new music really. Rather a compilation of rare and unreleased tracks from the band’s back catalogue. Of course, to me, any new Rilo Kiley is good Rilo Kiley. Look for this sometime later this year.

Boesel also says Rilo Kiley vocalist Jenny Lewis is working on another new solo album away from the band. She’s working again with her boyfriend Jonathan Rice who was heavily involved in 2008’s Acid Tongue. Maybe the new album will contain one of the new songs I saw Jenny perform last July.

***Finally… Tonight is the night Brandi Carlile makes her way to Knoxville for a show at the lovely Bijou Theatre. I wrote rather extensively about Brandi’s music and her new album Give Up the Ghost in this post a few months ago. I’m pretty excited for the show.

Brandi has also just released a new EP in time for Valentine’s Day. XOBC is an iTunes exclusive featuring three new original tracks along with covers of The Beatles’ “All You Need is Love,” and Bryan Adams’ “Heaven.” You can purchase it from iTunes here. It serves as a nice addendum to Ghost and well worth the minimal price for Brandi fans.

I’ll leave you today with another video from Brandi’s recent session at The Interface. This is “Dying Day” from Give Up the Ghost.

Random Weekend Post: Josh Ritter

Posted in Josh Ritter on January 2, 2010 by AmericanaPulse

A few videos today from one of my favorite songwriters… Josh Ritter.

Friday Top 5: Top Five Most Listened to Songs on My I-Tunes

Posted in Andrew Bird, Josh Ritter, Rilo Kiley, The National, Tift Merritt, Top 5 on October 24, 2008 by AmericanaPulse

You’ve seen the commercials on TV where the straight-laced nerdy guy argues with the hip young guy about the merits of PC’s versus Macs? Well… for the record, I’m the straight-laced nerdy guy. I’m a PC. I’ve always had issues with Macs and Mac related programs.

I think that’s why I resisted I-tunes for so long. I had always used Windows Media Player to play any music I had on my PC, and it had always worked out fine. I didn’t feel the need to switch to anything else… no matter how much “easier” or “better” it was. I didn’t have that much music on my computer anyway.

About a year ago, something changed. I finally got my first I-pod and began the process of transferring my entire music library to my hard drive. Of course, the use of an I-pod necessitates the use of I-tunes. I was reluctant to use it at first, but now I can’t live without it. I have roughly 13,000 songs at my fingertips now anywhere I go. I can listen to them all randomly, make playlists, and do just about a billion other things with just one simple program. I’m converted.

One of my favorite features of I-tunes is the “play count” feature. It keeps track of everything you listen to on your I-pod and on I-tunes and counts how many times each song has been played all the way through. Since I first started adding songs to I-tunes roughly a year ago, I thought it would be fun to take a look at my play count numbers to see what I have listened to the most over this past year.

Here then, are the five songs that have been played the most over the past year on my I-tunes, my I-pod, and my wife’s I-pod. That means that most of these songs are ones that my wife and I both enjoy, and her extra listens have put them over the top. Most of these songs also appear on albums that got a lot of play around these parts in the last year. A few of these artists have more than one song in the Top 10. Anyway… here we go…

#1.) “Broken” by Tift Merritt
This one leads the count by a large margin. My wife and I both love Tift’s new album Another Country, and we saw her perform live three time in the last twelve months or so. This track was also nominated for Song of the Year at the Americana Music Awards, and I listened to it a lot when I was working on that post… and when I was working on my Tift Merritt profile post. There isn’t really a whole lot else I can say about this one that I didn’t say in those two previous posts. If you haven’t discovered Tift Merritt by now… I don’t know what else I can do.

Tift Merritt: Broken (Buy Album)

#2) “Squalor Victoria” by The National
This is another song that I’ve hosted here before from the band that really opened my eyes to the world of mp3 blogging (more on that next week). This is a track from the band’s 2007 album Boxer that highlights my favorite aspect of The National’s sound… the work of drummer Bryan Devendorf. Devendorf propels the song along with a complex beat that reminds me of a military march sped up to ten times its normal speed. Matt Berninger’s vocals are icing on the cake. Three songs from Boxer were in the Top 10… one of my favorite discoveries of the past year.

The National: Squalor Victoria (Buy Album)

#3) “Plasticities” by Andrew Bird
I can say without fear of hyperbole that Andrew Bird is my favorite whistling violinist working in the world of indie-pop today. His Armchair Apocrypha album is another that I seem to return to time and time again with each listen revealing a new layer of sound. The gentle pluckings of strings and lightly struck chimes in the verses give way to an anthemic chorus filled with brushed drums and fuzzy guitars. This is the one song that made the list almost solely through my listens. I put this on almost every playlist and mix CD I made over the past year. I wanted everyone I knew to hear this song.

Andrew Bird: Plasticities (Buy Album)

#4) “Kathleen” by Josh Ritter
All of the songs on this list were originally released in 2007 or 2008… except for this one. It comes from Josh Ritter’s 2003 release Hello Starling and contains what may be the greatest opening lyric ever commited to tape. When Josh sings “All the other girls here are stars/You are the Northern Lights,” he immediately sets the tone for the song and makes my wife upset that I’ve never said anything that poetic to her. I went on a huge Josh Ritter kick following the release of his 2007 album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter (my favorite album of ’07), and I’m a little surprised that track got more listens than a few of the songs on Conquests.

Josh Ritter: Kathleen (Buy Album)

#5) “The Moneymaker” by Rilo Kiley
I mentioned this song briefly in last week’s Top 5 and provided a link to the video. This song is simply a boozy swagger through the world of adult entertainment. Blake Sennett’s guitar sets the mood for the song perfectly and provides the perfect playground for Jenny Lewis’ sex-soaked vocals.

Rilo Kiley: The Moneymaker (Buy Album)

So there you go… the five songs I’ve heard the most over the past year. On January first, I think I’ll reset the play counter and keep track of this all again next year.