Josh Ritter ‘The Beast In Its Tracks’

Josh-Ritter-The-Beast-in-Its-Tracks

 

Today’s Cool Album of the Day (#852 in the Series) is Josh Ritter, The Beast In Its Tracks

I have come to expect great things from Josh Ritter over the handful of years that I’ve been a fan of his. And were it not for my pawing through a friend’s estate sale and picking up Animal Years because he swore I’d like it, I’m not sure how or when I would have found Josh Ritter.

But man, now three LPs and two EPs since that career-defining release, am I ever glad I did.

When I heard about the scheduled release of The Beast In Its Tracks  I went all out. I pre-ordered the 180-gram vinyl (with free CD album version in the dust jacket) in December in anticipation of its March release date. I pre-ordered concert tickets (with free digital download) In January for the concert still 2 1/2 months away.  My expectations could not have been higher, and they were met and exceeded when I sat in my living room and listened to that album from start to finish on its release date in early March.

The first thing I noticed was that this record’s tone is distinctly brighter and more airy than either So Runs or Historical Conquests. Strange, since this album is all about him coping with his recent divorce. At his show in Portland a couple of weeks after the album’s release he mused of the post-divorce writing process:  “I wanted to sit down and make an album full of angry, vengeful songs, but I found that it just didn’t suit me.”  He also waxed philosophical about the hopefulness of marriage and how he still really believes in it (and made his apropos political commentary alongside).

Now, don’t get me wrong, taken alone, most of the time his lyrics on Beast are raw at best, bleak at worst. Consider these selections from “Hopeful” and “New Lover.”

“How many times is the truth you take to beJoshRitter2013promophoto true / Just truth falling apart at the same speed as you / Until it all falls away a million degrees / And you’re just a few pieces of falling debris.”

or

“I can’t pretend that all is well / It’s like I’m haunted by a ghost / There are times I cannot speak your name / For the catching in my throat / There are things I will not sing / For the sting of sour notes.”

The album starts to meld into a more coherent blend of sad lyrics and soulful western ballad with “Appleblossom Rag” (which, live, was a glorious duet with Josh on his acoustic 6-string, and mustachioed Zachary Hickman on upright bass, sharing one microphone and harmonizing to kingdom come.) He opens with: ” Where’s the queen of my parade? / She ain’t comin’ back / Only thing she left me was this Appleblossom Rag”  and ends with  “Oh the Appleblossom Rag / Lord, I’m such a fool / For things that sing so sweet and sad / but are so goddamn cruel.”

Sounds pretty bad. And of course it is. But what about divorce is good?

joshrBut then again, when you continue to listen, it is inescapably clear that the music and creative reservoir from which it sprung totally transcends the stark lyrics. The music itself, with its lack of overproduction leaves open space for the sun to break through — a hopeful and bright inspiring backdrop, almost a smirking nod to the abiding knowledge that it doesn’t end this way, it’s going to get better, and if you look hard enough, it already has. (It should be said that Josh does indeed have a new lover now, and a child to boot – what’s more hopeful than that?)

Just to drive his thematic point all the way home, near the end of the album, in “Joy to you Baby” Josh provides this outright redemptive lyrical flourish: “There is pain in whatever /We stumble upon: If I’d never have met you / Then you couldn’t have gone / But then I’d never have met you / Then we wouldn’t have been / I guess it all adds up / To joy in the end / Joy to the city / The heat wave and all / The lion of evening / With the storm in his paw / Joy to the many / Joy to the few /Joy to you baby / And joy to me too”

So listen to The Beast In Its Tracks. Marvel at its honesty, and in Josh Ritter’s ability to bring wonder from heartache. Music may not come any cleaner or deeper than this.

Robin Crocker, Portland Oregon, USA Please visit and LIKE our facebook page

Track Listing

  1. Third Armjoshr2
  2. Evil Eye
  3. A Certain Light
  4. Hopeful
  5. Nightmares
  6. New Lover
  7. Heart’s Ease
  8. In Your Arms Again
  9. The Appleblossom Rag
  10. In Your Arms Awhile
  11. Joy To You Baby
  12. Lights

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