Sound: Idaho native Josh Ritter and alt.folk/Americana reviver has donned various musical masks over the course of his last few albums. Some were upbeat and cheery while others more dark and somber. His latest release, "So Runs the World Away" is decidedly in the latter category. Gone are the toe-tappers like the song "Right Moves" from "The Historical Conquests" or pop-driven ballads like "Good Man" from "The Animal Years". However, I am not inferring this is a bad thing. Ritter is often in his best with his dark subdued finger-picked tones laced with depressing introspective words. This is especially apparent on his cover of "Folk Bloodbath", a traditional eulogy folk dirge, which Ritter arranges with a sweet guitar melody, trumpet solos and the reverberating chorus singing, "the angels laid her away". Meanwhile, the piano-driven "The Curse" is another lyric-heavy trademark Ritter tune that weaves a tender story over whines of weepy trumpet solos that may even jerk a tear from you if you are in a dour mood.
But if you are looking for classic upbeat Josh Ritter, don't fret! This album also includes the songs "Lark" and "Lantern" which I guarantee will get your head bobbing with the Paul Simon inspired vocals on the former and uplifting chorus on the latter. Admittedly, these two songs aren't Ritter's catchiest or rockin'est melodies, but are classic Ritter nonetheless.
Finally, Ritter's attempts to genuinely rock out fell a bit flat for me. His tracks "The Remnant" and "Rattling Rocks" for me seemed as if Josh wanted an excuse to wail on the guitar, and these songs were the product. They aren't bad by any means, but they seem a bit out of character and do not fit will with the rest of the album. // 7
Lyrics: Josh Ritter loves writing songs with simple musical structure wrapped with involved lyrical stories where the guitar tune is more just a means to get the words across. This is the case in "Another New World", "Folk Bloodbath" and "The Curse". The first, "Another New World" is the tale of a mysterious 4th ship in Columbus's regatta, "the Nina, the Pinta, the Santa Marie and the beautiful Annabelle Lee". However, this ship (possibly a female metaphor) has an awful fate befall it which Ritter delicately recounts. Meanwhile, "The Curse" is a nautical/adventure infused epic of a woman falling in love with an Egyptian mummy she resurrects and brings back to New York and puts on display in a museum. "But each night she comes 'round and the two wander down/ The halls of the tomb that she calls a museum". Ben Stiller eat your heart out! In my opinion, this track certainly had the most creative and inspired lyrics.
Overall, Ritter's lyrics are spot on. None seem forced or overdone. His repeating choruses on "Southern Pacifica", "Lantern" and "Lark" are all quite inviting while being soothing sing-along tracks for long car rides. Even on my least favourite tracks, lyrics are not a complaint. Josh can stitch words together in a keenly unique way where I do not feel as though he is drawing adjectives out of a hat, as I do with other artists in this genre. // 8
Overall Impression: I can confidently say that "So Runs the World Away" is NOT Ritter's best album. "The Historical Conquests" was a much more exciting and emotional album, while "The Animal Years" contained some truly classic songs that are unequaled on this latest effort. If you are new to Josh Ritter and do not want to be disappointed, do not buy this album. Go buy one of his earlier ones, they would be a good start to familiarize yourself with Ritter. Though, if you are already a Ritter fanatic, this album contains certain gems that are well worth adding to your Josh Ritter collection, such as "South Pacifica", "The Curse", "Folk Bloodbath" and "Lark". I have to concede that Ritter, although I've loved his progression over the years, has taken an mis-step here with his album. Not to say that amazingness does not exist within, IT DOES. It is just inconsistent. // 7