Josh Ritter - The New Norah Jones!?
"I wanted to write about America. Things are weird there now"
To give Josh Ritter his due, it can't have taken long to realise that perhaps he hadn't made the right decision.
Based in Boston at the turn of the millenium, the young singer-songwriter had bumped into Dublin's Glen Hansard, lead singer of The Frames and one of the doyens of the music scene in Ireland. A mutual respect flourished, cemented when Hansard asked the Idaho-born Josh to accompany him to Dublin to support his hugely popular band. Thus he got off to a flyer, performing in front of thousands on The Frames' highly successful 'Burn the Maps' tour. Grasping the opportunity with aplomb, Ritter soon found himself selling out his own gigs, becoming very much a star in his own right. So, he did as any aspiring performer who's just become a star would - "I went back to Boston to do some temping."
He wasn't long in changing his mind. "I had to push things forward after that experience. I think that's what this job is about" he tells The Skinny in advance of the release of his fourth full length LP 'The Animal Years'. Each subsequent release seems to raise his stock even more, to the point where folk legends such as Joan Baez are queuing up to work with him, or simply just sing his songs. Musically uncomplicated, the Ritter emphasis is firmly on the art of the song as an expression of innermost reflections, gut reactions and social commentary.
Predictably, this approach has drawn comparisons with classic American songwriters such as Dylan, Cohen, Cash, Springsteen and perhaps prematurely (in Oberst's case), Conor Oberst. Ritter is circumspect on these associations. "They are offered in good faith, in a complimentary way, so I guess that's nice, but I won't get drawn into any 'tail-chasing', where you hear what people are saying, and channel yourself in that direction more and more." The amiable drawl and self-effacing manner conceal a remarkable eloquence, and throughout the course of the album, Ritter draws on the spirit of Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson and the Book of Revelations to turn his thoughts to his homeland. "I wanted to write about how America is now, what it's turning into, turning away from. Things are weird now, but that in itself presents a certain beauty."
Refreshingly principled, the 29 year-old speaks as though on a mission. "There are enough people who will find the chorus every time" he says on the pressures to conform to industry expectations. "That's fine for them but songs can be an energy that pushes culture forward. Shakespeare had this 'verbal technology', using words that didn't exist to give us new ways of describing things. You can never get that by sticking to the same formulas." Aspirational yet charming, he laughs when reminded that he has, bizarrely, been called the new Norah Jones. "She's much prettier than I am."
The Animal Years' is released on V2 Records on March 20.
'Girl In The War' is released as a download and 7"" single only on March 13.