J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Playlists, podcasts and music from WQFS Greensboro's J's Indie/Rock Mayhem

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Josh Ritter - Cat's Cradle, Carborro, North Carolina - 12th October 2005

Sometimes, okay, okay? Sometimes, it's okay to really, unabashedly, enthusiastically love a songwriter not because they are the harbinger of the next wave of music evolution, not because they are some sort of forward thinking savant whose music will not be understood for a few decades to come. Sometimes it's okay to love a songwriter because they bring a new, refreshing, uplifting voice to a genre that seems well worn and well trod.

I can't use the phrase 'singer-songwriter' without tensing for my gag reflex, if only because it's one of the most generic, untelling genre titles since Camelot Music stores stopped having an 'alternative' section. Who are 'singer-songwriters?' Generally we see anyone with even a remote folk connection lumped into it. Anyone who used to be in a famous band but has now struck out on their own is usually a good candidate. ("'Singer-songwriter' Brian Vander Ark is up next for us..") But I can go on and on trying to define it, so let's cut to the chase and talk about one of the latest people who upon their rise into pop-consciousness will undoubtedly have the 'singer-songwriter' motif put all up in their grill: Josh Ritter.

Long-time readers of this blog (or listeners to my show) know my huge love for Ritter's music. I've had the luck to see his evolution from 2001's The Golden Age of Radio (and my first subsequent live show of his in 2002) to 2003's beautiful Hello Starling and (counting last night) three more live performances. So what's good about Josh Ritter?

For one thing, he doesn't stand still. As was witnessed by the opening version of "You Don't Make It Easy, Babe," Ritter isn't always content to let his albums be the last word. Where the album version is Freewheelin' Dylan-pastiche at its absolute best, the live version has transformed into a sped-up shuffle with punctuating bass and gorgeous accordian lines in the bridge. Conversely, when he's on target, such as in the note-perfect "Snow Is Gone," he usually knows it. That song remains every bit of the verge-of-overflowing, joyous, here-comes-the-spring-and-i'm-lovin'-you song that it is on the album.

Since Josh was opening for Ireland's The Frames, his set was a bit shorter than normal and consisted mostly of a combination of Hello Starling songs and new material. The 10-minute "Thin Blue Flame" was even better than in the recorded live version available via his site. And the absolutely gorgeous song, who for lack of knowing the actual title I will call "Best is the Best," was easily, for me, one of the story-telling show-stoppers of the night. Both tunes (as well as the other handful of new songs) bode very well for his forthcoming album.

Ritter only dug back in his catalogue twice ("Golden Age of Radio" and "Harrisburg") and also didn't play the song that has gotten the most attention from me in this 'tween-albums time period, "Girl in the War." I'm curious as to whether it will be on the new album or not. If not, it's an empty spot in his catalogue.

Sadly, due to my daytime job, an hour drive back home and a slowly more-feverish girlfriend (which is what she gets for being nice enough to take care of me when I was sick last weekend), I had to bolt from the show before getting to talk to Josh a bit more. Josh was going to be nice enough to do some station IDs for me, and I apologize for having to cut out so gracelessly. It also prevented me from being able to take in more of the Frames whose recorded work I have enjoyed quite a bit. The first few songs of their set were quite fantastic. They are definitely worth seeing/hearing when you have the chance.

Check for an update to this post later tonight for some links to some Josh Ritter MP3s worth hearing.

Update: I've added a link to "Girl in the War" to hear a live radio broadcast version of that song. Here is also a pre-Hello Starling live recording of another favorite Josh track, "Bone of Song," which appeared on a sampler for the Chinese Firedrill zine. All three mp3s are live recordings so you can get a feel of what Josh's live performances are like. Enjoy.


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