Album Review: Josh Ritter – The Beast in its Tracks

by Matt De Mello


Rating: 4 Stars

In 1975, Bob Dylan was in a rut; his marriage to Sara Dylan was falling apart, he hadn’t made a great album in years and he had just returned to Columbia Records after a failed two record stint at Asylum Records. He then wrote Blood on the Tracks and all of that heartache, pain and biting anger bubbled to the surface. It is considered one of his finest albums and in my mind his absolute finest. At no other point in Dylan’s career do I feel like he is at his most poetic, his most sad and his most acerbic.

Similarly, Josh Ritter has been in a bit of a rut; his last few albums have fallen flat with me and he also has come to recently be divorced from his wife. So his latest album The Beast in its Tracks is about that feeling of loss he now suffers from. He isn’t quite as acerbic as Dylan, because frankly that isn’t his way. He isn’t the angry type. He isn’t the type to say all the things that many wish to say or even do when they don’t have the constraints of love binding them any longer.

What he does gently, Dylan did like a punch in the gut, but they’re comparable because they both come from a real place of pain. Dylan once said of Blood on the Tracks, “A lot of people tell me they enjoy that album. It’s hard for me to relate to that. I mean, it, you know, people enjoying that type of pain, you know?” From that pain he created a masterpiece and while Ritter’s latest isn’t to that level it is his best album since maybe The Animal Years. Perhaps, artists truly do write better music when they’re in pain. I sort of crawl up into the fetal position when in pain, but hey I don’t handle adversity well.

Most of the songs sound like a different kind of Josh Ritter. The songs sound a bit happier and yet upon listening closely you realize they’re full of anguish. Not only do the Dylan comparisons fit, but there’s even a bit of a John Lennon feel about some of the songs, particularly on “New Lover” where he says in his most Lennonesque style:

I hope you got a lover now, 

Hope you’ve got somebody who

Can give what you need like I couldn’t seem to do,

But if you are sad you are lonesome and you got nobody true,

I’d by lying if I said that didn’t make me happy too

Come to think of it that’s a lot like Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” as well, where Dylan says “you’re an idiot babe, it’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.”

I once got into a debate about whether or not Josh Ritter was the best writer of this generation. I was of the opinion, at the time, that he was one note. He hadn’t done anything that I thought was particularly worthy of such high praise and while I admired his immense talent I simply thought the other person was being hyperbolic. One some level I still feel that way. Some measure of success must be achieved to be called the writer of a generation. When Dylan was called that he sparked an entire movement, Ritter has not. However, I would be remiss if I’d say that this album was not beautifully written. It is imaginative, sad and extremely emotive in a way that is very unlike many artists today.

There are stages of grief achieved throughout the album until the end when we finally reach the acceptance part and Ritter simply wishes his former wife, the best. At that point you’re so immersed in the sadness that you too feel like you went through this traumatic event. That is the mark of a brilliant songwriter and Josh Ritter has certainly proven that his music is anything but one note. This is his Blood on the Tracks

Josh Ritter 2013 Tour Dates
03/13 – Granada Theatre – Dallas, TX
03/14 – SXSW – Austin, TX
03/16 – Rialto Theatre – Tucson, AZ
03/18 – Belly Up – Solana Beach, CA
03/19 – Fonda Theatre – Los Angeles, CA
03/20 – The Fox Theatre – Oakland, CA
03/21 – Crystal Ballroom – Portland, OR
03/22 – Commodore Ballroom – Vancouver, BC
03/23 – The Neptune – Seattle, WA
03/24 – Knitting Factory – Spokane, WA
03/25 – Wilma Theatre – Missoula, MT
03/27 – Ogden Theatre – Denver, CO
04/14 – Taft Theatre – Cincinnati, OH
04/15 – Southern Theatre – Columbus, OH
04/16 – Danforth Music Hall – Toronto, ON
04/17 – Royal Oak Theatre – Detroit, MI
04/18 – The Vogue – Indianapolis, IN
04/19 – Brown Theatre – Louisville, KY
04/20 – Plush – St. Louis, MO
04/21 – Liberty Hall – Lawrence, KS
04/23 – Pabst Theatre – Milwaukee, WI
04/24 – Capitol Theatre – Madison, WI
04/25 – First Avenue – Minneapolis, MN
04/27 – The Vic Theatre – Chicago, IL
05/08 – State Theatre – Portland, ME
05/09 – Calvin Theatre – Northampton, MA
05/10 – 9.30 Club – Washington, DC
05/12 – Cat’s Cradle – Carrboro, NC
05/13 – Orange Peel – Asheville, NC
05/14 – Variety Playhouse – Atlanta, GA
05/16 – The Trocadero – Philadelphia, PA
05/17 – House of Blues – Boston, MA
05/18 – Terminal 5 – New York, NY
07/18 – Big Top – Limerick, Ireland
07/19 – Venue TBA – Dublin, Ireland
07/20 – Sea Point Ballroom – Galway, Ireland
07/21 – An Grainan Theatre – Letterkenny, Ireland
07/23 – Village Underground – London, UK
07/25 – Paradiso – Amsterdam, Netherlands


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