JOHN YDSTIE, host:

It wasn't that long ago that singer/songwriter Josh Ritter was an undergraduate at Oberlin College.

Mr. JOSH RITTER (Musician): I wanted to study neuroscience, but I ran into some bad people along the way and became a musician.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song from album “The Animal Years”)

YDSTIE: Now 29, Ritter has just released his third album: The Animal Years. He also just bought a house in Moscow, Idaho, not far from where he grew up.

(Soundbite of song from album “The Animal Years”)

Mr. RITTER: (Singing) I got a girl in the war. Man, I wonder what it is we done.

YDSTIE: Ritter's music used to be mostly love songs. With this CD, he ventures into political themes.

(Soundbite of song from album “The Animal Years”)

Mr. RITTER: (Singing) Paul said to Peter, you got to rock yourself a little harder. Pretend the dove from above is the dragon and your feet are on fire.

YDSTIE: So, is this a conversation between St. Peter and St. Paul?

Mr. RITTER: Yeah.

YDSTIE: How did you imagine this?

Mr. RITTER: You know, when I was starting to write this record, I was watching a lot of really old movies--a lot of silent film. And, Laurel and Hardy are the classic comedy pair, you know. I was watching them a lot and I was thinking, you know, they're so much like Peter and Paul, the Republicans, the Democrats, this bumbling couple. You know, while they're arguing and while they're kind of shouting back and forth or, you know, humming and hawing, there is, you know, serious problems that are going on, right now, that just need attention. You know, there just needs to be something going on that I don't feel is happening.

(Soundbite of song from album “The Animal Years”)

Mr. RITTER (Singing) Streets a'swimmin' with amputees. It's a Bible or a bullet they put over your heart. It's getting harder and harder to tell them apart. The days are nights, and the nights are long. Beating hearts blossom into walking bombs…

YDSTIE: Some reviewers have compared you to early Dylan and Springsteen. Is that a gift or a burden?

Mr. RITTER: It's--well, it's--I guess if I thought about it a lot, it would be a burden, but as it is, it's a huge compliment. But, it's, like--it's not a shadow I would ever choose to live under.

YDSTIE: There certainly are references, though, to Dylan and to Springsteen and…

Mr. RITTER: Sure.

YDSTIE: …to others in your music. In fact, the second cut on the CD, titled Wolves, sounds like you're channeling Bruce Springsteen.

Mr. RITTER: Ha! (Unintelligible)

(Soundbite of song “Wolves”)

Mr. RITTER: (Singing) So long, so high, so long, so high, so long, so high, so long…

I think, in the last year or so, Springsteen has been a really big inspiration to me, you know. He's somebody that I look to for guidance and for making, you know, a life for yourself besides just a career…

YDSTIE: What do you mean make a life for yourself?

Mr. RITTER: Well, I think you can never really do something well unless you're able to leave it and, you know, have a family and have a home, and have a place that you're from that you're really dug in, you know. You know, I got once--when I was in college and just starting to write, I sent a tape that I had made to Pete Seeger. You know, he didn't know me from Adam, but he wrote me back and he said the most important thing you could ever do is to choose a place and dig in.

(Soundbite of song from album “The Animal Years”)

Mr. RITTER: (Singing) But it's my home. Last night I dreamt that I grew wings. I found a place where they could hear me when I sing.

YDSTIE: There really is a sense of place in your music. I mean, you get a sense of concrete images that come out of your real life.

Mr. RITTER: Yeah, well--thanks.

YDSTIE: Mm-hmm.

Mr. RITTER: I think that Idaho is a song that I wrote that just, kind of, it just came out of me in a way that I felt like I'd already written it.

YDSTIE: Well, you've got your guitar with you this morning. Would you play it for us?

Mr. RITTER: Sure, yeah, definitely.

(Singing) Something else was on my mind. The only ghost I'm haunted by, I hear her howlin' down below. Idaho, Idaho. Wolves, oh, wolves, oh, can't you see? Ain't no wolf can sing like me. And if it could, then I suppose that she belongs in Idaho.

YDSTIE: That's a wonderful, haunting song.

Mr. RITTER: Thank you very much.

YDSTIE: What is it about wolves? They show up on this album--at least a couple of times, play a prominent role.

Mr. RITTER: Well, I wanted wolves to be in every song, somehow. There's such a cool, mythical, uneasy relationship between humans and wolves. Raised by wolves or running with the wolves or werewolves--you know, they're all--they're sort of that easy transformation that you can make if you slowly, one day, you would wake up and you were just a wolf.

(Soundbite of song “Wolves”)

Mr. RITTER: (Singing) Wolves in the piano, wolves underneath the stairs, wolves inside the hinges, circling round my door…

The wolf in this record was my reminder to myself that, down the path of total conviction, you end up just like any other animal that runs in a pack and that's not a place I would like to go.

(Soundbite of laughter)

YDSTIE: What do you want for yourself as an artist, now? Do you want Springsteen-type fame, or something else?

Mr. RITTER: Well, looking for fame as a musician is a lot like running for president. You know, if you do what everybody says while you're out there looking for followers, you end up just, you know, following the followers, and you end up wearing cardigans and stuff.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RITTER: And right now, this is a wonderful, exciting time where it feels like the artistic potential to take something in a whole different direction and whole new places, feels to me, right now, like, limitless.

(Soundbite of song from album “The Animal Years”)

YDSTIE: Josh Ritter's new CD is called The Animal Years. Thanks for coming in this morning, Josh.

Mr. RITTER: Thank you very much John. Thanks for having me here. This is exciting.

(Soundbite of song from album “The Animal Years”)

Mr. RITTER: (Singing) These codes are old, but we shake hands, cause I believe that they're the good guys…

YDSTIE: You can hear more of Josh Ritter's performance at npr.org. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm John Ydstie.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

(Soundbite of song from album “The Animal Years”)

Mr. RITTER: (Singing) I fell in love with the sound. Oh, I'd love to sing along with you. We got tunes we kicked around some. We got a bucket that the tunes goes through…

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