Every time he puts out an album, it's like an old friend returning from a long absence. You know, that friend you haven't seen for a long time. When they show up, you feel rejuvenated and you have cause to think, reflect, and smile about those good times from long ago. Perhaps he/she is an old friend from high school or college. And you wonder where they have been, what they were up to and what took them so long to reappear. You have a long discussion with them. One of those discussions where you open up and talk about things you would rather keep to yourself, but feel you need to get off your chest. That conversation that makes you think about life, decisions, loved ones, good times, or what might have been.
We met Mr. Ritter, figuratively speaking, on the way back from a long weekend of hiking in western Montana one Sunday afternoon several years ago. We had hiked probably 20 miles that weekend and were headed home, tired, yet rejuvenated and ready for another week of work. It was a warm day, windows down, hair blowing in the wind, Siberian Husky fur flying, and the radio, set on KPND Sandpoint, was turned up loud. This song, which H did not care for at first, came on and I thought it had a nice ring and rhythm to it. It was called "Right Moves," and I grew to love it. Subsequently, I went out and bought the album and discovered a gem of a musician and artist. H too, found that his lyrics were very smart (brilliant in many cases), insightful, and he was a local boy from Idaho! He told great stories through his music, which was comforting and something we both enjoyed together.
A child of professors at the University of Idaho and educated at Oberlin, he eschewed following in the footsteps of his parents (neuro scientists or some ridiculously smart career) to become a musician (he tells the very funny story of telling his mother he was leaving college to become a musician in one clip). What courage (or stupidity)! We bought some of his older albums and were hooked. Eventually, we would drive several hundred miles to see him in concert, arriving to find that we were some of the oldest fans in the crowd. One of my most distinct memories of that concert was hanging out with several co-eds half our age. Still, it was clear this guy was something special. Critics love him. Influenced by (and compared by critics to) such performers as Dylan, Springsteen, Guthrie, and Cohen, he is a treasure. I see all of them in his work, plus the influence of musicians such as Paul Simon, as well as country and folk music, history, and writers like Mark Twain. Mostly I see a man who truly loves his profession. How many of us can say that?
On H's birthday one year, we went to see him in concert, and I got the band to come out to sign her CD afterwards. We were surprised when he came out to meet to us personally; rarely have I seen a woman so happy as H as she talked to him about politics, current events, and life in general. He was a sharp young man, with clear principles and the substantive wherewithal to back it up. We have subsequently seen him again (and appeared on YouTube in one case!) and follow his musical accomplishments closely.
It is a bit unfortunate that his latest CD is about love lost, having divorced his wife of just a few years. The album, however, is not a depressing one of love lost, but one of having had something special, held on to it tight, and celebrating the good things from it as he realizes life moves on. Here is a live performance from NPR. He always puts his heart and soul into his performances. I guarantee you will find something to like in the music of this remarkable musician. If not, his smile, intelligent lyrics, enthusiasm, and lust for life and his music will leave you with a smile. http://www.npr.org/event/music/172415060/npr-music-presents-josh-ritter-in-concert
And a sampling of songs...with video!
"Me and my friends in the park drinking beer underneath the tree. Lying on your back as the sun goes down, you know it's perfect cause you've got to leave." Me and Jiggs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQYzXtdl4Sw
"All the other girls here are stars, you are the Northern Lights." Kathleen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bm3lWq4s5-U
"You put a finger to my lips and then you kissed me once, and once again the crickets all leapt up and met the moon with a standing ovation." Am I making all the Right Moves? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Skxi14RSJN0
"Climb through the timbers, and I'll breath the dust, of cosmos and wild rose bud. And thunder the unknowns, in the phosphorous white glow." Southern Pacific: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sH0UOpKcflc
Moon River cover; we saw people cry when he did this live: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rj23eiRkKBk
His anti-Iraq war song; when we saw him in concert, all the college students knew the words. Girl in the War: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5f5Xl_FGhg
"Birds beneath my window, dustying their wings upon the lawn. I hear them in the morning light giving last amen to a migratory song." Winter goes away--Snow is Gone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiShUqwcPBw
The science song; simply brilliant. Stuck to You: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4ToqS5FoZc
"Such reanimation, the two tour the nation." Creative storytelling and animation to boot. The Curse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gxWxiuJRApU
"You had your red rainslicker on, your face was turned up into rain as you watched me and I was crossing, I was crossing the street like my own Rubicon, coming back home to ya, coming back Rome, and your eyes were so patient and calm and green as the grass that might grow on the 23rd Psalm." Rainslicker: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GWf4FSdWFWU
A favorite of H: "General George began the day by taking pink little pills. Sent his men to the top of some hell of a hill. Through the whisper of trees came artillery breeze. He said I love the way the wind comes a'tickling my knees." To the Dogs or Whomever: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jnIG5mNLVU
And if you find yourself interested in his music, check out http://www.joshritter.com/.