ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
The Beast In Its Tracks, by Josh Ritter
It’s easy to be angry after a break-up. You want to grab a bottle of whisky and crank some classic angry Bob Mould songs (Black Sheets of Rain, anyone?). I suppose that Josh Ritter had a few of those moments when his marriage ended in divorce back in 2011. Yet Ritter further demonstrates once again why he is one of his generation’s finest songwriters with an album that tackles the subject with grace and intelligence.
Over the course of 13 songs, Ritter reflects thoughtfully on what worked and what didn’t. He ruminates on the feelings of what was lost and what he subsequently found with a new love. Few artists could tackle these topics with such empathy, even fewer can emerge – and share with his or her audience — a deeper understanding of self.
The album opens with “Hopeful,” a song that finds Ritter questioning the wisdom of the “wise man who said it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” The songs restrained yet insistent melody gives the listener some optimism that a light will shine at the end of the album’s journey.
“Joy to You Baby” illustrates how Ritter is able to detach himself from a situation while simultaneously capturing the emotion of a moment. The song begins with Ritter trying to escape reality, stuck at a party but imagining himself flying into the cloudy night. Further consideration leads to a realization:
There’s pain in whatever
We stumble upon
If I never had met you
You couldn’t have gone
But then I couldn’t have met you
We couldn’t have been
I guess it all adds up
To joy to the end
Elsewhere across The Beast in its Tracks, Ritter conjures up the biblical overtones that are the hallmark of some of his finer work. “In Your Arms Awhile” has a folk gospel quality to it while the plaintive emotion of “Lights” underpinned by a somber organ.
“New Lover” finds him reflecting on the downfall, both taking responsibility and placing some blame.
Perhaps the fault was mine
Perhaps I just ignored who you’re always gonna be,
Instead of who I took you for.
I’ve been treated worse it’s true, still I expected more.
The song announces that he has found a new love and expresses some hope that his former lover has found romantic happiness as well. Then again, Ritter, like any of us, isn’t above a few moments of anger and antagonism. “If you’re sad and you are lonesome and you’ve got nobody true, I’d be lying if I said that didn’t make me happy too,” he concludes.
Yet, the overall tone of The Beast In Its Tracks still comes back to the opening moments in “Hopeful.”
These days I’m feelin’ better about the man that I am
There’s some things I can change and there’s others I can’t
I met someone new now I know I deserve
I never met someone who loves the world more than her
Everyone should be as lucky to find similar peace and happiness.
(See Suzanne’s take on Ritter’s new release here.)
Audio Download: Josh Ritter, “New Lover”
Julia, Tom McBride (from the Humpback Records release Morning in Glen Burnie)
There’s a classic charm to McBride’s latest release. Several tracks remind me of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant’s classic hits such as “Raining in my Heart” or “All I Have to Do is Dream.” In the vein of those masterpieces, McBride writes songs with gentle melodies that ripple with a sense of melancholy.
This track is a great example. McBride’s vocals inject a soulful quality to this relaxed ballad, with a soothing string accompaniment to give it a timeless feel.
(See Jeff’s recent interview with McBride here.)
Audio Download: Tom McBride, “Julia”
Doesn’t It Remind You of Something, Ken Stringfellow (from the Spark and Shine release Danzig in the Moonlight)
It’s been eight years since Stringfellow released a proper solo album, but it isn’t like he has been resting on his laurels. In the year’s since 2004’s Soft Commands, Stringfellow has released a handful of albums with his legendary power pop band the Posies and his Norwegian garage band the Disciples, not to mention his work with REM and Big Star.
Well, Stringfellow the solo artist is back. His latest is a stripped down affair that shines a light on his songwriting prowess. The tracks on Danzig in the Moonlight span genres — from the half-spoken country ballad “Doesn’t It Remind You of Something” to the Al Green-style soul of “Pray” — but are all infused with Stringfellow’s impressive pop sensibility. The aforementioned track is a gem perfect for Twangville, a woeful tale of heartache with duet vocals from The Head and the Heart’s Charity Rose Thielen.
And call me biased, but I love the album title….
Lo Siento Spanishburg West Virginia, Scott Miller and Rayna Gellert (from the F.A.Y. Recordings release CoDependents)
Miller is a talented storyteller, crafting tales of the South with the proper balance of meaning and humor. A chance meeting with gifted fiddler Rayna Gellert at West Virginia’s legendary Mountain Stage resulted in this collaborative ep release.
This stand-out track reflects on the transitory nature of life, touching on a football team that loses its winning ways and a soldier whose life is changed when is injured in battle before describing a West Virginia town transformed from a modest settlement to a retirement mecca. The listener gets all this conveyed in a four minute Appalachian mountain folk song anchored by Miller’s acoustic guitar and Gellert’s fiddle.
Pieces and Castles, Nakia (from the Something-Music release Drown in the Crimson Tide)
Austin soul singer Nakia has been on a roll of late. Fresh from making it to the final eight on the inaugural season of The Voice, he extended his time in LA to work with some impressive songwriting and musical collaborators. The result is a stirring new ep. Whether letting loose on the feisty “Pieces and Castles” or the R&B ballad “When I Found You,” Nakia’s soulful vocals stand front and center – exactly where they should be.
Audio Download: Nakia, “Pieces and Castles”
Something to Do, The Sideshow Tragedy (from the self-released Persona)
It’s been a few years since we’ve heard from Austin’s The Sideshow Tragedy. Well, the duo are back and pick up right where they left off, making a glorious racket of bluesy and boozy garage rock. Singer-guitarist Nathan Singleton wails on vocals and guitar, especially when he applies a slide to his guitar, while drummer Jeremy Harrell lands his own punches with a bruising beat.
Audio Download: The Sideshow Tragedy, “Something To Do”
Rooftop, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper (from the Ba Da Bing Records release Ripley Pine)
Brooklyn by way of Maine songwriter Aly Spaltro — Lady Lamb the Beekeeper – displays a musical confidence that belies her age. Twenty-three now, her emotionally charged music careens from gentle ballads to fevered indie rock, sometimes in the course of a single song. At its core, however, are Spaltro’s impassioned vocals and the powerful strum of her electric guitar.
Audio Download: Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, “Rooftop”
Running Red Lights, The Postelles (from the +1 Records release …And It Shook Me)
There is always a certain amount of fear when a band releases the follow-up to a great debut album. Well, New York City’s the Postelles do more than avoid the so-called “sophomore slump,” they put it out to pasture with their glorious new release. The band’s pop melodies are served up with an indie rock swagger. There’s a jubilant feel to tracks like this one, guaranteed to get feet tapping and faces grinning.
Audio Download: The Postelles, “Running Red Lights”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.