wed 17/07/2019

Josh Ritter, Liquid Room, Edinburgh | reviews, news & interviews

Josh Ritter, Liquid Room, Edinburgh

Josh Ritter, Liquid Room, Edinburgh

Talented singer-songwriter leaves everyone smiling

Josh Ritter: A chipper, good-looking, gammon-cheeked cove - with a hint of beigeSteve Moyles

I’ll say this much for Josh Ritter last night, he was happy to be there. I’ve never seen a man grin quite so much on stage, and apparently with complete sincerity. Before the Idaho-born singer-songwriter played a note he promised that “we’ll have a ball”, and by the end he had certainly delivered. And yet still some small but essential ingredient seemed to be lacking.

Ritter is one of those supremely gifted all-rounders who turns his hand to most types of Americana without ever quite stamping his imprint indelibly on any of it. He and his excellent four-piece backing group, the Royal City Band, were near enough impeccable last night, but the nagging suspicion remained that Ritter - chipper, good-looking, gammon-cheeked cove that he is - seemed to be fighting a battle against an innate politeness, perhaps even a hint of beigeness, that he's destined to never quite win.

I’m not sure it made the evening any less enjoyable, certainly not for his highly devoted fans. Ritter is both a true craftsman and a fine wordsmith, unafraid to fling around a “trellis” here, a “brocade” there, and the ghosts of great songwriters flitted through his compositions: with perfect and oblique understatement “The Curse” captured two lives in five minutes, the kind of finely drawn miniature portrait that recalled Paul Simon at his best. “Galahad” – the mere announcement of which caused one lucky audience member to re-enact the diner scene from When Harry Met Sally – was wry and clever and dispensed LOLs like Loudon Wainwright III on top form. “Southern Pacifica” made full use of the band’s broad dynamic range and might just be the greatest song the Eagles never sung, and he even slipped a snippet of Talking Heads' "Once In a Lifetime" into the mix. Elsewhere there were echoes of Springsteen and Ryan Adams.

joshritter1But where was Ritter? Well, he showed up, too, and he wasn't always smiling. Having recently split from his wife of less than two years, musician Dawn Landes, a torrential new song with the refrain “I have a new lover now, I hope you have a new lover too” seemed loaded with personal significance, as did a hushed cover of the Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes”.

Both 2007’s The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter and last year’s So Runs the World Away demonstrated a desire to escape the folk ghetto, a feat Ritter has pulled off with some success. Last night he cooked up a slow, thick gumbo on “Rattling Locks”, during which a handful of spare bodies – including Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchison – appeared on stage banging their drum sticks like Arcade Fire on a strict budget.

It was all good sport but Ritter remains at heart a little too user-friendly to impart any real sense of menace or disorder. He might fear the man-with-acoustic-guitar gulag yet that’s probably what he does best. When he ordered the lights dimmed (“so my band can pick pockets”) to sing a solo, unamplified “In the Dark” it was genuinely spellbinding.

Hutchison returned for a duet on “Stories We Could Tell”, an old Everly Brothers road song which, thanks to some rather wayward harmonising, was closer to the spirit of the Chuckle Brothers. The rousing “To the Dogs or Whoever” rounded things off in suitably upbeat fashion and Ritter departed even happier than he had been 90 minutes earlier, if such a thing were possible. Everyone else in the building was similarly uplifted. In such circumstances it seemed almost churlish to wish for just a little more.

The announcement of "Galahad" caused one lucky audience member to re-enact the diner scene from When Harry Met Sally'

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