Album Review: Josh Ritter – So Runs the World Away

“So Runs the World Away” by Josh Ritter

So Runs the World Away (2010)

First off, I realize I have had like 5 posts about this album. But this is the last one.

When you talk about Josh Ritter I feel like it is easy to throw names around like Springsteen and Dylan. It’s hard not to really. Every Josh Ritter song is written like poetry and exudes a certain energy and emotion that is hard to find in most music today. Unfortunately, people are bound to be offended by such comparisons. Springsteen and Dylan are legends and it’s natural to be skeptical when you talk of putting someone on the same level as some of the great iconic figures in the history of American music. But let’s be real, if you have listened to “So Runs the World Away” and the rest of Ritters’ impressive compilation of work over the years, it becomes hard to deny Ritter his rightful place amongst the greats.

I feel like most people can accept the brilliance of Ritter’s writing, but it seems that people’s major gripe with him is his ‘authenticity’. Ritter isn’t a gritty symbol for blue collar America like Springsteen, and he’s certainly not bitter and heartbroken like Dylan. He doesn’t sing much about his roots, and the political issues of his time only rarely appear in his music, and when they do they are faint and vague at best.

I feel like when people see the young, clean cut, jubilant performer. They are almost turned off. Like they want someone more hardened by a life on the wrong side of the tracks. People want someone with a clear identity, certainly not someone who grew up in a small town in a state that people know next to nothing about. It’s as if being a great artist isn’t enough if you don’t have a story. I guess on some levels this is a valid critique. I would love as much as anyone to hear Josh sing more songs about his native Idaho, and on rare occasions his songs do come off as sort of a catchall for all things “Americana” with every verse filled to the brim with references to apple pie, Lewis and Clark, chirping crickets, baseball, and Mark Twain.

In some ways though I feel like this sort of red white and blue musical version of a Jackson Pollock painting actually tells us more about Josh Ritter than any personal anecdote ever could. More than anything else Josh Ritter is a story teller. Himself an avid reader and historian who just wants to take his audience to the same places that his books have taken him.

Let’s be clear, Josh Ritter can weave a tale, and nowhere is this more apparent than in his last album, “So Runs the World Away”. This is a HUGE album. With songs about polar exploration, gravity, mummies, and murder in the wild west, “So Runs the World Away” really makes me think of Josh as some kid with a vivid imagination daydreaming during history class. The evolution in this album is that the multitude of influences and references are no longer just splattered haphazardly on a canvas. They are more refined and flushed out, with songs acting as miniature movies that transport the listener to some far off land.

Some stand outs on the album for me include…

The Curse

Folk Bloodbath

Another New World

“Another New World” has been particularly interesting to me as of late. It’s an epic about a stubborn arctic explorer and his love affair with his ship. Seems like Josh writes a lot of maritime songs. Pretty interesting, considering he comes from a land locked state. The story alone is hauntingly beautiful but then on top of this you have to take into account how the song simultaneously pays homage to Edgar Allan Poe. The name of the ship in the song “The Anabel Lee” is an obvious and brilliant reference to the famous Poe poem of the same name. Also the way the lyrics of the song flow, is actually very Poe-esque.

Overall, this album firmly convinced me that Ritter deserves his place amongst the greats. “So Runs the World Away” is a stunningly beautiful look into the mind and imagination of one of the single greatest singer song writer of my generation.


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