Long-time Josh Ritter aficionados could be forgiven for thinking that somebody else’s CD got stuck in the sleeve of his fifth album by mistake, such is the quantum leap away from the folksy, confessional singer-songwriter material of his past. OK, the themes are still worthy and wordy, steeped in antiquity, laden with metaphor and as literate as they are lyrical. But his voice sounds remarkably different: for the most part, he’s singing in a higher register, at times hitting falsetto status, far removed from the throaty rumble of -Bone Of Song’ or -Wings’.
The news that Ritter is to become a published author will come as no surprise to those familiar with his back catalogue, and this album again showcases his penchant for the kind of rambling narratives more often associated with prose than song. Like the astonishing -Another New World’ or the warped waltz of -The Curse’. The former is a typical Ritter epic about navigating the Arctic Circle, which tips its cap to an Edgar Allen Poe poem, while the latter’s a weirdly wonderful tale of a love affair between archaeologist and ancient mummy: the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez set to music.
There’s the simple beauty of -Change Of Time’, -Long Shadows’ or -Lark’, the closest he comes to the style of previous albums. In stark contrast comes the bone-shaking, Waits-ean, percussion-driven -Rattling Locks’, the distorted blues of -The Remnant’ or the plaintive -See How Man Was Made’, a companion piece to Neil Young’s -A Man Needs A Maid’ if ever there was one. Meanwhile, -Folk Bloodbath’ takes a traditional murder ballad, and turns it resolutely on its head.
So it’s a new-ish Josh Ritter but once you get over that fact (and it takes a while), So Runs The World Away is his strongest collection since The Animal Years, confirming the Idaho native’s status as one of America’s finest contemporary song-writers.