Wednesday, September 26th, 2007
To The Dogs Or Whoever
Just so that we’re clear, I want to state for the record that I like Josh Ritter’s stuff. A lot. Though Hello Starling didn’t do much for me and I haven’t heard Golden Age Of Radio, The Animal Years was a terrific record, certainly one of the better ones released last year and his latest The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter is a fine follow-up that cements his status as an artist to watch, both right now and possibly for years to come.
But – and of course there’s a but, I started out with a qualification – I find that my enjoyment of Ritter’s records always comes with an aftertaste of frustration. It always sounds to me that Ritter is still looking for his voice, his sound, his style and that for all the great songs and lyrics he creates along the way, he’s not there yet. For example, on Historical Conquests, it sounds like he’s trying to create a loose and rollicking 70’s rock and roadhouse vibe to contrast with the expansive folk-rock of the last record and that’s fine, but you can hear him trying rather than just doing it. Similarly, he reaches a little too hard to channel Dylan, Cohen or Springsteen when I suspect just being Ritter would yield great results. The myriad different styles touched on over the course of Historical Conquests sound as much like someone trying to find their niche as much as indulging an eclectic musical palate.
It’s a vague criticism, I know, and probably somewhat irrelevant since it in no way diminishes the fact that he’s turned out two terrific records in just seventeen months, but it’s something that’s stuck with me over both those albums and I think it needed to be said, even if I don’t fully understand what I mean. But if you look at it from the right perspective, it means that at just 31 years old, Ritter has a lot of time to find that zone where he fits naturally and when he does, he’ll turn out records even better than he already has and that’s something to look forward to.
Ritter is in town tonight for a show at the Drake Underground but it seemed to sell out before any proper ticket info was released and I don’t even think I’ve seen it in advertisements or listings. I’m hoping it’s a semi-private, low-key sort of thing meant as a precursor to a proper show in a larger venue at a later date. His solo show at the Horseshoe back in February was a real treat but I’ve also got a hankering to see him with a full band. Here’s hoping. Glide, Harp and The Tandem all have interview features with Ritter.
Tuesdays are also known as new record day, but since I’ve been doing this blog it’s meant less to me as album advances showing up in my mailbox (real or electronic) weeks ahead of time have kind of diminished the excitement of the day (those of you who do leaks know of what I speak). Which is why I was actually quite excited yesterday as two new releases that I’d really been looking forward to hit stores without me having gotten a sneak preview – by gum, I was going to go to the record store and buy these puppies! Of course, I did it en route to an after-work event and haven’t had time to do more than take the plastic wrap off let along listen to them yet, but still. I gots em.
The first of these was Washington Square Serenade, the latest from Steve Earle. Over his last couple records, Earle has been in angry rock mode and while his ferocity and indignation over the state of American politics is energizing, it also resulted in some rushed or otherwise sub-par songwriting. I’m under the impression that Serenade is supposed to be a quieter affair, a paean to Earle’s adopted home of New York City and also perhaps influenced by married life. Steve getting domestic? For Allison Moorer, why the hell not? The New York Post, PopMatters, CMT and The Times talk to Earle about his new record.
And an aside – head to Information Leafblower for a teaser trailer for the fifth and final season of The Wire, in which Earle guest stars and this season, provides the theme song (the cover of Tom Waits’ “Way Down In The Hole” which also appears on Serenade). The trailer doesn’t reveal much but does promise more of the sunshine and lollipops that have made it the best show on television.
The other new release I was eager to get my hands on was The Weakerthans’ Reunion Tour, and I know everyone’s all Polaris-ed out right now, but I should mention that when The Weakerthans were mentioned in one of the band introductions at the awards ceremony Monday night, the roar that arose from the crowd rivaled anything that the nominees got. You want an early odds-on fave for next years prize? Look no farther than Winnipeg. Canadian Press has a talk with frontman John K Samson about some of the themes of the new album, the tour for which brings them to the Phoenix on November 8. There’s a second MP3 from the album up for grabs and you can stream the whole thing at their MySpace.
So Much Silence has MP3-ified a couple of tracks from The National’s recent session for WOXY, where you can grab the whole thing as a single file. The Daily Trojan has a conversation with Matt Berninger, who leads his band through The Phoenix on October 8. Update: The Futurist has another session track to download in addition to the whole thing.
Head over to the official website for the forthcoming R.E.M. in Dublin DVD to see a trailer for the live CD/DVD set due out October 16. Or don’t. I wouldn’t fault you if you just didn’t.