The music on the MySpace page for Josh Ritter provides a particularly astute and concise explanation for why this Idaho singer-songwriter has survived the customarily deadly Dylan comparisons and remains both a “critic’s fave” and custodian of an increasingly large proletarian fan base.
“The Temptation of Adam” is the first MySpace track and its attention to detail, like wainscoting or embroidery on a tablecloth, is both ultimately unnecessary and a small, recurring delight. The atmosphere is immediately flipped by “To the Dogs or Whoever,” which has an echoey mix and the chockablock rhyme-scheme, humor and enthusiasm of a limerick — like Dylan singing “I Want You” a trifle soused in an Irish pub.
“Girl In The War” is next. It aims to break your heart and its aim is mostly true. A stringed-instrument with a tone as brittle as a thumb-piano beats against swollen orchestration as Ritter rails at the apostles Peter and Paul with lines like “Because the keys to the kingdom got lost inside the kingdom/And the angels fly around in there but we can’t see them/I got a girl in the war Paul I know that they can hear me yell/If they can’t find a way to help her they can go to Hell.” He follows that up with the mash note, “Kathleen,” which opens, “All the other girls here are stars/You’re the Northern Lights …”
A pair of live tracks wrap things up: The raucous “Rumors I Live At the 9:30 Club” replete with horns and heavy beats, and a rendition of “Girl In The War” in which you can hear a pin drop. The passion Ritter invests in each is utterly palpable and totally different.
Here’s Ritter singing “The Curse” at the Avalon Theatre in Maryland last April. Here he is with violinist Hilary Hahn in Central Park this summer; and singing “Kathleen” with the New York Pops that same June night. And for you uptempo folks, here’s “To the Dogs or Whoever” from Juan’s Basement.
Josh Ritter at the Varsity Theater, Thursday, July 9, 8 p.m., $21.