Next to the Last Romantic: Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter Historical ConquestsWell over a year ago, I was reading my Entertainment Weekly Holiday issue, lamenting all the offerings I hadn’t gotten to see or hear or read. When I got to Stephen King’s column on the best music of 2006, I noted that he had laid his good fairy wand yet again on some relatively obscure artist named Josh Ritter, and thought, “Cool. I’ll have to check him out.” And promptly forgot.

Recently, only fourteen months later, I picked up two of his CDs: The Animal Years and his latest, The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter. Uncle Stevie was right. The boy can sing, and boy, can he write a song.

From “A Girl in the War,” off of The Animal Years:

Paul said to Peter you got to rock yourself a little harder
Pretend the dove from above is a dragon and your feet are on fire
But I got a girl in the war
Paul the only thing I know to do
Is turn up the music and pray that she makes it through

And from his newest album, “Next to the Last Great Romantic”:

He’s stolen hearts like they’re horses
And horses when hearts can’t be found
He keeps riding from one horse to one horse to one horse towns (It gets him down)

What I like about Ritter’s lyrics is that they capture a mood so precisely, while at the same time twisting familiar images into something fresh and new. By combining the cliches of stealing hearts and stealing horses, he turns those old sawhorses into an evocative image of a wearying Casanova. And it doesn’t hurt that he sounds like a combination of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan (when he actually sings).

What are your favorite Josh Ritter songs?

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