Josh Ritter (left) performs at the Newport Folk Festival.
Josh Ritter (left) performs at the Newport Folk Festival. Wiqan Ang
Josh Ritter released what many call his masterpiece in 2006: His folk-rock opus The Animal Years is a meticulously constructed album of protest songs that seem somehow to exist both in the real world and in one of Ritter's own imagination. In it, he manages to compare Laurel and Hardy with the Apostles Peter and Paul, and barely heard tunes on a car radio to the Stations of the Cross. In Ritter's half-sung, half-spoken vocals and unlikely first-person songs, Bob Dylan's influence shines through, as in the nearly 10-minute "Thin Blue Flame," but Ritter is far less sardonic — and more likely to pull back for a wider view of the way the world's injustices meet up with its beauty.
Ritter's 2007 album The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter adds urgency and distortion to his reading of modern Americana (without losing the anachronistic pop-culture references; one song, "To the Dogs or Whoever," drops Florence Nightingale, Joan of Arc and Calamity Jane into the belly of Jonah's whale), and last year's Live at the 9:30 Club puts those songs in front of an audience in Washington, D.C. Ritter has been touring the Midwest this summer, and will play a handful of shows in the U.K. in September.
"Girl in the War"
"Real Long Distance"
"Another New World"
"Lillian, Egypt/Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da"
"Hello Starling (Snow Is Gone)"
"To the Dogs or Whoever"