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June 18, 2017

Josh Ritter the Smiling Folk-Rock Mountain Man

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Josh Ritter of the State of Idaho has been composing, singing and smiling through a pretty impressive streak of musical success over the course of a decade and more.

This man, a contemporary of mine in both age and region of origin, consistently (a) delights with his lyrical complexity and verve; (b) honors America with his inspired evocations of her lands and people; (c) and, featuring a tight band, simply rocks.

What follows is a setlist and brief commentary. No obligation falls on anyone to favor the man’s music; but I do feel obliged to give my reasons for why I do.

Begin with this triumvirate of genius: “Wolves,” “To the Dogs or Whoever,” and “Where the Night Goes.”

Listen to those three tunes and you’ll discover a vigorous upbeat rock band backing an American poetic performer of power and subtlety.

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There is the zaniness and verbal fun of “The Next to the Last True Romantic,” or the infectious cacophony of “Rumors.” “See Me Through,” a somewhat obscure classic, mimics John Lennon’s “Imagine” without the pretentious lyrics: pretentious lyrics are by far the worst problem with “Imagine.”

Next up, consider the deep American synthesis of “Folk Bloodbath,” which rivals any Dylan or even Johnny Cash version of Delia & Lewis Collins and that whole legendary drama. Among the many brilliant sentences is this one: “Out of Stackalee’s came Stackalee’s cold lonely little ghost.”

Following that, take in the hilarious cynicism of “Galahad.” This song has a handful of off-color cracks, but its deep sense of fun carries through: like its best line this song is “More error than knight-errantry.”

Moving along:

One of Ritter’s earliest, “Kathleen,” while nearly fifteen years old, has aged extremely well. “Snow Is Gone,” of roughly the same vintage, backs it up.

Following all these, “Monster Ballads” seems to me among the most beautiful of its kind in my lifetime. That rounds it out. Ten songs. There is the reader’s setlist.

(One extra? Okay: the live version of “Golden Age of Radio” in Dublin, Ireland, the country where this grinning American mountain man, by some fascinating romance of chance, first caught fire.)

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