Josh Ritter’s latest, So Runs the World Away, is something of a departure from his previous albums. It’s not as immediately gripping as his other work, and the best songs on the album are still growers, but it’s a record that shows some nice artistic growth.
Ritter’s previous work was very much in the singer-songwriter vein, featuring plenty of finger-picked acoustic guitars, copious use of the word “babe” in the lyrics, and way more words crammed into phrases than will actually fit comfortably. This record ditches the acoustic guitar in favor of electric singer-songwriter finger-picking and (more prominently) organ and keyboard. The keyboard is the dominant sound on this record, and it adds plenty of texture and atmosphere to the songs. Ritter has changed the way he writes his lyrics much – there are still phrases where he’s essentially spitting the words out as fast as he can, he still croons in his half-hushed, mumbly way, and the word “babe” does crop up a couple of times – but he’s approaching the instrument side in a completely different way. Ritter plays with textures and layering sounds on this record, taking full advantage of the studio setting to create intricately-woven layers of organ, keyboard, and electric guitars. The work has a more atmospheric feel, relying very heavily on those keyboards and using guitars to fill in gaps and holes.
The album works, though none of the songs really jump out the way that songs on his previous work did. The songs are quite good, even if they are growers. Opener “Curtains” signals just how different this album is: 56 seconds of swirling keyboards and atmospherics, no words, just texture. “Change of Time” has a wonderful layered build, while “Folk Bloodbath” borrows some folksong heroes for a dark tale of death and betrayal.
The record is definitely a step forward for Ritter in terms of production and expanding his sound. The album may not grab you like his previous albums, but it rewards repeated listens with new depths and great songs.