“I hadn’t composed this stuff, I’d scrawled it down, just trying to keep ahead of the heartbreak. We needed to work fast, keep the songs as spare as they could be kept, and above all never allow ourselves to blunt the sharp edges”, American singer - song writer and Ireland’s adopted son Josh Ritter muses about the recording of his latest album. However the album title itself seems somewhat of a contradiction. Oddly, it is lack of sharp edges here that becomes glaringly obvious and you can’t help but wonder where is the beast in these tracks?
The 13 songs are comprised mostly of Ritter’s vocal and acoustic guitar, never really stepping beyond the quintessential singer - song writer comfort zone. Although these tracks even in their raw state are quite beautiful, the lack of instrumentation within the arrangements is disappointing considering he has both piano and violin in his personal arsenal of instruments. Sonically, American folk with a slight country twang is the inspiration. Artists like Paul Simon instantly spring to mind during ‘Bonfire’, its bouncy melody and staccato style rhythm makes this a good old-fashioned toe taper. ‘Hopeful’ is a stand-out, incorporating electric guitars, synths and backing vocals producing a more well rounded, meatier sound.
Ritter’s power lies however in his ability to capture the listener with his lyrics. The influence of Dylan is evident on tracks like ‘Evil Eye’ and ‘New Lover’. His effortless, poetic wordplay articulates stories of love and loss which he himself admits was inspired by the breakdown of his marriage. Of course no break up record would be complete without the ballads and Ritter has that box ticked with the final track ‘Lights’. The down-tempo, acoustic arrangement exposes his soul and achieves the original intention of leaving these songs as sparse as possible.
Repeated listens triggered a thought- maybe Ritter’s idea of a beast is more the lyrical expression and less about creating a ferocious, complicated sound. A way to expel his own personal beasts and demons safely with the comfort of his acoustic guitar. This slow burner of an album may not be for everyone but should appeal to fans of folk and Americana.
Review by Karen Lawler