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So Runs The World Away

The 'New Springsteen' comes of age

Rating: 8 / 10

Peter Murphy, 13 Apr 2010

From this end of the telescope, The Animal Years was Josh Ritter’s pivotal moment, the album where he transcended the impressionability of his apprenticeship years and established himself as his own man. Up to that point Ritter was still halfway between callow Candide and consummate craftsman: even songs as good as ‘Kathleen’ bore the vivid imprint of his bedroom wall heroes. If Charles Laughton had asked of Ritter, as he did Davis Grubb, “Man who are your masters?”, even the wags in the back row might’ve ventured Leonard, Dylan and Townes as well as Twain.

But that fourth album, specifically ‘Thin Blue Flame’, changed everything. It was, in its way, as much a testimony to the powers of self-realisation through hard graft as Star of the Sea was for Joseph O’Connor or American Idiot was for Green Day. In its wake the Idaho journeyman consolidated with a live album and deviated with the playful Historical Conquests Of..., which were all well and good, but lacked the sense of an ongoing story being unfurled. Another definitive statement was required.

And here it is. So Runs the World Away represents something of a maturation. Timeless as well as old-timey, songs like ‘The Curse’, ‘Change of Time’ and the sprawling Poe-boy blues of ‘Another New World’ seem beamed from antiquity, located in deserted fairgrounds, salty-aired seaside towns in September, windblown Coney Islands of the mind. They possess a sound and an atmosphere as thick and evocative as that conjured by Mercury Rev’s Deserters Songs or The Band’s Music From Big Pink.

Ritter is still susceptible to other voices, mind. The book of jubilations quoted in ‘Lantern’ is akin to Bruce’s recent renaissance missives, and ‘Rattling Locks’ reeks of Time Out Of Mind lassitude, with rattling bones percussion and growling slide. ‘Lark’ echoes Paul Simon, ‘The Remnant’ is Lennon at his meanest, and ‘See How Man Was Made’ is Neil Young jamming with Lanois.

The difference is these days Ritter assimilates with more skill, as evidenced by ‘Folk Bloodbath’, a rewrite of the Stack-O-Lee myth that weds his considerable narrative skills to sea shanty gospel. This pilgrim, for one, will be in the queue to read the forthcoming novel Bright’s Passage.

Ultimately, So Runs the World Away sees Josh Ritter claiming and cultivating new territory, commingling Biblical symbol systems, ramblin’ gamblin’ riverboat tales and old world storytelling with a There Will Be Blood sized sense of the night-time widescreen and the matinee epic, the life-and-times-of and the-rise-of-and-fall-of and the whole nine yards.

Rating: 8 / 10
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