Josh Ritter : The Beast In Its Tracks
(2013 Pytheas Recordings/YepRoc Records)
Josh Ritter’s return after the lushly produced and arranged So Runs The World Away from 2010 is a much more restrained affair, featuring the usual bunch of talented musicians, nowadays known as The Royal City Band. As it is a break-up album, written and recorded after his marriage with fellow singer/songwriter Dawn Landes fell apart, it’s supposed to sound much sadder or more depressed than The Beast In Its Tracks actually does.
Yes, the arrangements are a quite stripped down and many of the songs are slow – but despite the lyrics reflecting the theme of a break up they don’t really sound all that melancholic. Take Nightmares for example – it’s a splendid song with a lovely tune and some fine solo acoustic guitar work by Josh Ritter himself augmented by a bit of keyboard and a bass guitar. What I always liked a lot about Josh Ritter is his voice, at once sounding resonant and full as well as neutral, with none of the extreme characteristics of people such as Bruce Springsteen or Tom Waits.
The album starts with the (very short) acoustic guitar/vocal song Third Arm, which nicely fades into second song Evil Eye, like almost all songs on The Beast… dominated by an acoustic guitar and a great tune. Next song A Certain Light is probably my fave song on the album, one of the loveliest – in a bittersweet kind of way – songs I heard in a long time, the lyrics telling about a new love he found, but as ‘she only looks like you in a certain kind of light’ implies, he’s still thinking about the love he lost a great deal.
Hopeful is probably the only song on here I don’t quite like too much, although it’s pleasant enough on its own right – but it’s just not AS good as the other songs. New Lover is one of the most fully arranged songs (together with Joy To You Baby and Hopeful) in a conventional Folk-Pop/Rock sense, with proper drums and intertwined guitar lines almost giving the song a nice Ambient-ish feel. I also love the last line ‘… but if you’re sad and lonely and you got nobody true I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me happy too’.
Heart’s Ease features no less than four guitars all played rather delicately, so it’s by no means a rock-song. In Your Arms Again is maybe the most folky-sounding song on the album, slightly up-tempo with a light, airy feel to it. Maybe even more of a fave of mine than A Certain Light is The Appleblossom Rag, albeit in a very different way. It’s just a quiet song with just an acoustic guitar, Ritter’s voice and some kind of background noise, according to the liner-notes ‘gossip’, but actually more sounding like noise made in a kitchen, with rattling cups and such. I could listen to it for ages (I do that, actually). Afterwards, things get a tad more lively, starting with Bonfire, again a slightly folky, acoustic song, but more up-tempo and with equipped with a gorgeous tune.
Next track In Your Arms Again is as muck Rock as it gets on The Beast In Its Tracks, featuring almost a full drum set, although it’s only a bass and a snare drum (if I am not mistaken) and some background vocals giving it a rather full sound, compared to most of the other tracks on here. Next to last song Joy To You Baby is a summery, laid-back Folk-Pop tune and album closer Lights might be the most obviously melancholic track on the album.
As I mentioned, the direction is a bit of a surprise after So the World Runs Away, but nevertheless The Beast In Its Tracks is once again a fully convincing album by one of the best of the current young-ish crop of songwriters, and one I while most definitely be enjoying for ages.