Josh Ritter's latest, So Runs The World Away is mind-bogglingly good. It's his first record released on his own label, and it showcases a breadth that followers of his have always known was there in a way that it hasn't yet been revealed on recordings. His storytelling is unparalleled (see the video above for proof), and his nods to the folk music that came before him made my first time listen one of the most engaging experiences I've had with a record in a long time.
An example: there's a murderer in "Folk Bloodbath" named Stagger Lee (or Stack O'Lee, as Josh pronounces it). "Hey!" I though to myself, "Nick Cave has a song about him. Is Josh Ritter tipping his hat to Nick Cave?" Not really, as it turns out. Stagger Lee was an actual guy who actually killed someone and died in prison, but he's also been a fixture in folk music for a long time. I spent at least an hour reading all about him and the people who've sang about him. This educational journey brought to you by Josh Ritter (and Nick Cave).
So, the show. It was amazing. Truly. I sat in the back row in the balcony, just about as far as one can be from the stage at Town Hall (which still isn't very far) and I don't think I stopped grinning throughout the entire set. The songs from the new record sounded amazing as played by Josh's bandmates for the tour, The Royal City Band, and he played all the old songs you'd hope he'd play (with one major exception) and a bunch of great stuff that I didn't expect. Apparently he covered Springsteen's "The River" the next night in Boston, but it's probably best that he didn't do that in NYC, since my heart might just have stopped out of pure joy. We did get a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel #2" (went kinda like this), during which you the otherwise rowdy audience offered nary a cough. There was a "Wicked Game" cover-as-breakdown, too.
I've put way too many links in this post. Sorry about that. Here are two more, both of which you should definitely click on:
Josh Ritter's big ol' tour (US and Ireland).
Josh Ritter's recent Daytrotter session (free music).
One of my favorite things in the world is watching the progress of a band as it finds its way. I had the chance to catch back up with Railbird the other night at a sold-out show at the Bowery Ballroom, opening for their hometown friends Phantogram. As it was an opening slot, timing was tight, but the shortened set was enough to showcase a band that continues to reinvent itself, hone its chops, and refine its sound.
I hate classifying shit, so I won't, but I will tell you that even if you checked Railbird out the first few times I wrote about them and decided it wasn't your thing, you should circle back. They rock even harder now; they're experimenting with the range of sounds you can make with more musicians on stage, and Sarah Pedinotti's writing continues to get better and better. There were multiple times in their short set that they hit grooves I just plain didn't want to end.