Wednesday, August 7, 2013

One generous human

Josh Ritter is blunt but never bitter

Express Staff Writer

    Why is a raven like a writing desk? Not even Alice knows that, but luckily, when Josh Ritter questioned whether he could be an authentic writer without a stately and appropriate desk, he didn’t puzzle over the riddle long.
    And, in other nonsensical quandaries, Ritter, with seven albums and a novel under his belt, has only more recently established himself as a musician stateside after being embraced internationally in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
    The result is a storied career in writing both songs and fiction.
    Ritter, a Moscow, Idaho, native, will be in Ketchum to perform at the River Run base of Bald Mountain, with his Royal City Band on Wednesday, Aug. 14. The show starts at 7 p.m.
    The guitarist’s folk-rock anthems and Americana style finally got him local coverage in 2006 when Paste magazine named him one of the “100 Greatest Living Songwriters.”
    Opening for Ritter are The Milk Carton Kids, an up-and-coming duo that offers an alchemy of harmony, acoustic guitars and great songwriting.
    Ritter and his band are touring “The Beast in Its Tracks,” which adheres to his narrative style.
    As the story goes, Ritter became interested in music after hearing Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country.” He started on a lute, got a guitar from K-Mart and began furiously penning what he thought were destined to be nothing but musings to music, even though he fancied himself a writer of more trades.
    Without a desk, but with a failed marriage, Ritter decided he’d accumulated enough romantic elements to be a full-fledged writer and he was off. He finally penned the novel “Bright’s Passage,” which is the story of a guy who leaves World War I with an angel, with whom he subsequently waits out a wildfire.
    The committed truth-teller’s lyrics waver between unjust and hopeful. As writer Justin Wesley noted in “No Depression, The Roots Music Authority”: “There are myriad songwriters in the world who can competently string together an album’s worth of volatile putdowns in the face of a romance’s end, but few songwriters dig deep enough to discover the humanity that comes with delivering deeper truths.”
    A fan favorite abroad, and soon to be here no doubt, is the song, “Idaho.”

All that love all those mistakes
What else can a poor man make?
So I gave up a life of crime
I gave it to a friend of mine
Something else was on my mind
The only ghost I’m haunted by
I hear her howling down below
Idaho oh Idaho

Wolves oh wolves oh can’t you see?
Ain’t no wolf can sing like me
And if it could then I suppose
He belongs in Idaho
Packs of dogs and cigarettes
For those who ain’t done packing yet
My clothes are packed and I want to go
Idaho oh Idaho

Out at sea for seven years
I got your letter in Tangier
Thought that I’d been on a boat
Til that single word you wrote
That single word it landlocked me
Turned the masts to cedar trees
And the winds to gravel roads
Idaho oh Idaho

    Tickets for the show can be bought at or by calling 726-9491.

Josh Ritter concert
Josh Ritter will perform in Ketchum at the River Run base of Bald Mountain, with his Royal City Band, at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 14. Tickets cost $30 for Center for the Arts members, $40 for non-members. Early-entry tickets cost $70 for members, $80 for non-members.

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