Friday, May 07, 2010

Review: Josh Ritter, So Runs the World Away

Josh Ritter
So Runs the World Away

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Josh Ritter. Not that the singer-songwriter went into hiding per se; he likely simply needed the time to progress to the point where he could make another album. To be entirely unbiased and honest, it was worth it. This album is worth the wait of a lifetime. It’s a showcase of Ritter’s accomplishment as a musician thus far—and it’s wonderful, and impressive, and we can’t wait for more. As usual, I’ve taken the album far too personally, as Ritter grew up 7 miles from me and thus we share the unparalleled anguish of growing up on the rural Washington-Idaho border—or so I like to think. So Runs The World Away is a short album (too short for some of us), but still so very diverse. Ritter has something for every taste in this masterpiece. Being a girl of many tastes, I devoured most of them with gusto, and have outlined them below.

Sweet (ballad)
“Another New World” is a first-person epic narrative, a haunting ballad, clocking in at just under eight minutes of heartbreak (and is probably deserving of its own separate review—for those of us who dig the collisions of the musical and literary worlds, the Annabel Lee, though it is a ship in this story, is indeed a Poe reference in context, and the song itself is even written in Poe’s rhyme and meter). “The Curse,” in similar fashion, another ballad (albeit a simpler and more stripped down piano-centered one), tells another heartbreaking story of a woman who falls in love with a mummy who then outlives her—from “after thousands of years, what a face to wake up to” to “she’s just one more rag now he’s dragging behind him.” These songs are centered more in Ritter’s songwriting prowess—in true Dylan fashion (actually, going all the way back to ye lute-wielding bards of yore) the songs themselves can stand on their own as works of poetry. (Other Sweet tracks: “See How Man Was Made,” (“man ain’t supposed to live alone”) “Change of Time”)

Saucy (grittier rock)
Now take, on the other hand, tracks such as “Rattling Locks”—dark and gritty electric guitars and what sounds like an entire host of frantic drummers take an entirely different route. The instrumental arrangements are more important in these tracks—but the lyrics still do not fall to the wayside (“rather than rattling your locks/I’d rather spend another night in hell”). These songs are soul-food for me simply because they dig into anguish and turn it into an outpouring of tasty (albeit angsty) sound. (Other Saucy tracks: “The Remnant” also takes this exact path)

Salty (classic Ritter folk)
“Folk Bloodbath” and “Lark” are closer to Ritter’s older work, neat, classic folk tracks—but to be honest, that tells you absolutely nothing about how they sound. “Folk Bloodbath” sounds like it belongs on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack—special thanks to our charming Music Board Director Caroline for picking up on the Louis Collins reference in this song—the song itself is a mash-up of classic 1920s blues songs reimagined, hats off to Blind Willie McTell and Mississippi John Hurt. (Other Salty tracks: “Long Shadows” (warm harmonies, warm acoustic chords, footsie-tappin’-maracas, sweet lyrics), “Southern Pacifica”)

Bland (the album’s shortcomings)
This category is the only reason the album is an A- and not a flock of olive-stem wielding golden doves. “Lantern” and “Orbital” really aren’t all that good. At all. In my humble opinion, I issue a formal request to take them off the album so I can stop skipping them. “Orbital” even showcases some saxophone work. Saxophones are one of the few instruments I can simply not reconcile myself with. It’s personal.

To sum it all up, So Runs the World Away is a showcase of many tastes, but nowhere is Ritter’s influence hazy. The album is wholly his, every lyric, every hint of existential questing that threads through the entire record. As listeners, we too are wholly his. As Ritter covers the wide (and simultaneously narrow) range of human emotions, we are all one. At least, that’s how the album should make you feel.

Recommended Tracks: The Curse, Another New World, Rattling Locks

-- Fiona Hanly
"Sweet N Flo," Mondays 12-1 pm on WGTB

1 comment:

Caroline said...

i loved this album for the most part, mostly the "sweet" songs (good designations by the way) and "change of time" and "folk bloodbath."

but "the remnant" I HATE, that intro is so jarring and terrible and i want it to stop