Tesla has an amazing track, titled “Call It What You Want,” wherein lead vocalist and Arkansan Jeff Keith states the following: “Music means a lot to me / Like love I make it when I can.” Keith’s axiom elegantly sums up how most musicians feel about sex and music. Unfortunately, it lands on the telling side of another axiom: show, don’t tell. This is where musical lifer Josh Ritter one-ups Mr. Keith (Admittedly, using Tesla as a musical touchstone isn’t for everyone.); Ritter constantly and consistently makes solid if not pert-near grand music.
Ritter’s recorded output and touring schedule mark him as someone who intends to grow old playing music, with an album or so released every two years for the past 14 and varying sound textures from lonely and quiet acoustic numbers to tunes with boisterous horn sections and a multitude of voices. He can play any kind of room–intimate, barroom or concert hall. And the Moscow, Idaho-born Ritter is better known as a writer to some, having released a well-received novel, Bright’s Passage, in 2011.
Ritter’s latest musical release, The Beast in Its Tracks, finds the man unpacking his recent divorce from fellow musician Dawn Landes. The songs on the album spend much of their time mingling simple refrains and quietly building layer upon layer of sound until they nearly break like small waves onto sand, a rush of swirling water speeding over the shore. Unlike some break-up albums, these songs seem hopeful, as if Ritter wrote a passel of angry or overwrought tracks early on and dumped them in the river rather than record his rage. Ritter seems to know that the hard work comes during the second draft, where narrative and emotional distance allow the songwriter to find and create authentic, affecting music.