Josh Ritter
The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter



by mx STAFF
September 20th, 2007 | 12 replies

Release Date: 2007 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Is it Bob Dylan? Is it Bruce Springsteen? No, it's .... Josh Ritter?

Music, like fashion, moves in cycles. Every new fad, every new thrill, is built firmly on the bones and ashes of its predecessors. Hence we have styles like ska and flared jeans making their triumphant return in the mid 90s after dying spectacular deaths 30 years earlier. The dramatics of KISS and their ilk are conclusively put to rest by Nirvana, only to be replaced by My Chemical Romance in the next decade. Indeed, most of the 'new' music released in the past decade has been a wonderful conglomeration of everything that has come before, subtly tweaked and edited.

Initially, that seems like a negative thing. We are taught to crave innovation; to seek the brand new around every corner. We consign old music to the dustbin, always searching for a new fix. But it is precisely this cycle that allows us to listen to old and tired music with a new wonder. After a style has been dead twenty years, it's almost like hearing it for the first time again. Indie music has taken this proposition and run with it; in the past few years dozens of old and tired genres have reared their heads to be recombined with modern stylings. For the most part, these attempts have been startlingly successful. Rather than being rejected as derivative, artists such as M. Ward and Iron & Wine are hailed for embracing archaic recording methods and reintroducing the beauty of raw folk music to the masses.

But even these artists weave cautiously. The attempts to resuscitate old and beloved genres steer well clear of any perceived controversies or imitations. While M. Ward's vocal style certainly recalls Johnny Cash, he isn't attempting to dethrone him. In contrast, Josh Ritter comes out with all guns blazing on "Historical Conquests." Sporting a grandiose album title well beyond his station as a humble songwriter from Idaho, Josh Ritter goes even farther by attempting to grapple with two musical giants: Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.

On the surface, any comparison between Josh Ritter and these artists sounds absurd. And indeed, as the opening guitar on "To the Dogs or Whoever" begins to jangle, Ritter's eerie similarity to Dylan's phrasing on 'Hurricane' is jarring, rather than convincing.

But you'd be missing out spectacularly if you turned off the album off after the ill-advised opener. The rest of the album is, without doubt, stunning. Ritter possesses both a lyrical swagger and gift of phrasing that makes each and every song instantly gripping. His choruses appear to be slung around at random rhythms, but end up falling with devastating effect on just the right note. In "Rumors," every word seems like a bullet shot straight at the listener. It is precisely this ability to make lyrical verses stand on their own that distinguished the folk of Dylan from his contemporaries. Startlingly, Ritter pulls it off with almost equal aplomb, and manages to add distinctive hooks to his choruses as well. By the time he sings "I traded all the innocence I ever had for // hesitation" in the lead single 'Right Moves', it's over; Ritter has won his gambit. If Ritter is just an imitator, he's a damn good one -- an artist who can both copy a Monet painting and add his own flourishes.

And Ritter isn't just a one-trick pony, sticking to established themes and moods. "The Historical Conquests"is astonishing for its depth of exploration in the folk genre. Ritter transitions from a rolling western (The Next to the Last Romantic) to a quiet love song (Still Beating) and back to an anthem (Empty Hearts) without managing to lose any of his listener's attention, or respect, on the way. The album is at times both driving and introspective -- in short, its the kind of complete album that so rarely comes out these days. Rather than being a bunch of singles cobbled together, it's a piece that needs to be appreciated in its entirety.

Ritter certainly hasn't "conquered" the ghosts of musical history in his latest album. But he has managed to do what few others have done. Rather than being dismissed as a mere imitator, Ritter is able to tread the same ground as the musical giants without quaking in his boots..

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user ratings (55)

Comments:Add a Comment 
September 20th 2007


Album Rating: 4.2

I've made my music -- fashion comparison again without realizing it. That's what happens when you write reviews a year apart. But at least the analogy still holds in this circumstance.

Check out the album, it's amazingThis Message Edited On 09.20.07

September 21st 2007


I've heard nothing but good things about the album, so I'll check it out sooner or later. Very good review. Glad to see you at it.

September 21st 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

Hah, I thought I'd read that fashion/music thing somewhere before.

Sounds like good stuff. I've never really paid attention to any mention of this guy....I tend to lump all American singer-songwriters in with each other and dismiss them without ever really thinking about it. I should probably stop doing that.

September 21st 2007


Sounds excellent, I've never known where to go for 'modern' folk, he seems like a good start

Staff Reviewer
September 21st 2007


Very solid review - looking forward to your next one sometime in 2008!
Just kidding. 'Rumors' was a pretty neat track.

September 21st 2007


Album Rating: 4.0

great review, i really like this album

September 21st 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

Really good review, quality album.

September 24th 2007


Album Rating: 3.5

Yeah, album's really good. I actually think the first track is one of the best here.This Message Edited On 09.24.07

February 14th 2013


Album Rating: 4.0

this is really really really good.

March 4th 2013


damn an mx review.

Digging: Dyscarnate - With All Their Might

March 4th 2013


Album Rating: 4.0

album rules dude.

January 17th 2015


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