Josh Ritter and The Beast Within

review by Tomas Flint

“I’m singing for the love of it, have mercy on the man who sings to be adored.”

In an industry inundated with flash, flare and over the top shock-inducing antics, Josh Ritter employs nothing by way of tactic.  In fact, there is nothing exceptional to note of the author-singer-songwriter from Moscow, Idaho.  No fancy foot pedals, no blinding light displays, no revealing bootie shorts.  Nope, just an every-guy and his acoustic guitar.

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What begs consideration however is the depth of his musical catalog and the urgency with which he performs to his loyal following of folk/Americana aficionados.  As a performer, Josh exhibits a boyish charm; an ease and accessibility granted through wide eyes and a cheek-straining smile.  He seems almost smitten to play the songs that he himself has penned.  Like somewhere in the silence of his own head he is begging the question, “Is this really happening?”.  This humility and enthusiasm proves infectious to his audience, and those who packed into Water Street Music Hall on a frigid Friday night in November were no exception.

Josh Ritter’s current tour, based distantly on the heels of his 2013 LP A Beast in it’s Tracks, is a minimalist presentation and a treat for fans of all things acoustic.  No frills here.  Just he and longtime collaborator Zachariah Hickman on string accompaniment, along with a smattering of original folk music that dates back 15 years.  The audience listened in delight as the duo opened with “Monster Ballad”, “Bonfire” and the foot-stompin’ “Me and Jiggs” from the 2000 LP The Golden Age of Radio.  The set chugged along for over two hours, highlighted by classics such as “Curse The Rose”, “Cumberland” and the painfully revealing yet aptly titled “Hopeful”, a song from his current album that chronicles his divorce from musician Dawn Landes in 2011.  The encore was short and sweet, comprising of the “So the World Runs Away” B-Side “Galahad” and the all-time Ritter classic “Kathleen” from 2003’s Hello Starling LP.

As the show drew to a close, Josh and Zach pulled back on the strumming and gave the audience it’s long overdue vocal solo:

“I’ll have you back by break of day. I’m going your way anyway. If you’d like to come along. I’ll be yours for a song.”

Josh Ritter came to Rochester for more than a song.  In fact, he came for 25 of them.  Throughout the performance he illustrated his prolific range:  brilliant songwriting, enthusiastic musicianship, All-American charm and just enough vulnerability to make it all real.  The Beast that is Josh Ritter is a force to be reckoned with.