Josh Ritter Makes You Feel Special

Josh Ritter
Live from the KCD Theater in Louisville, KY

This week I'm featuring people who uplift us, and singer songwriter Josh Ritter is one of the best at doing that. NoiseTrade has recently made available some of his back catalog material, as performed live show in Louisville in March 2011.

The 41-year-old Ritter hails from Idaho, where he still makes his home for part of the year (along with Woodstock, New York). There's also a Western Massachusetts connection; Jim Olsen of Signature Sounds in Northampton put out Ritter's 2000 album Golden Age of Radio, his first national release.

Ritter was weaned on Dylan and Johnny Cash, and is a superb songwriter in his own right. What makes him sizzle is his work ethic; few performers work leave it on the stage like he. Nor do they enjoy what they do as much. Ritter has a charm you'd be tempted to label goofy, were it not so genuine. He engages his audience, thanks them over and over, and—when he's with his Royal City Band—makes sure you know the name of the musician who took the lead on a given instrumental passage. He grins his way across the stage with an I-can't-believe-how-lucky-I-am demeanor that makes you believe it—the brooding artist need not apply. I've seen him quite a few times, and on each occasion he made the audience feel as if they were the most-amazing group of people he's ever encountered.

The NoiseTrade offering contains 21 tracks, so let me simply highlight a few things that I think make Ritter such a beloved figure. Fans debate which is his best song, but conversation usually begins with "Bright Smile," a quasi-folk song that is, whatever else you call it, is a gem. It lends itself well to times in which he performs as a solo acoustic artist. So too does "Lark," a simple little ditty with a faintly bluegrass vibe. Also in the deeply personal category is the poignant "Change of Time." And you know an artist is uplifting when he can offer "Folk  Bloodbath," and make you smile. The title is tongue in cheek, as it's actually his version of the public domain song "Stagolee," the tale of an 1895 murder.  

Ritter is really in his element when he's with his Royal City Band. It takes confidence and trust in those in the seats to be a little silly. Check out this performance of "Wolves," another audience favorite because, who can resist a group howl? If I had to pick a single example of how Ritter can transform a big crowd into a personal living room of joy, I'd go with "Kathleen." Watch this amazing clip from a 2010 Dublin concert. Gaze upon the faces of strangers belting out the words and swaying in ecstasy—as if somehow this lad from Idaho was the brother who returned from exile.

If you know Ritter, download Live from the KCD Theater. (Don't forget to leave a tip.) If you've not yet been baptized, jump into the water with this one.

Rob Weir

Note: I have chosen tracks from other shows to offer how Ritter performs in different settings, and because video clips from Louisville are poorly lighted. The audio quality is superb, though.


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