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Ritter blends best aspects of talent for traditional folk

February 24, 2012

On “Bringing in the Darlings,” released Feb. 21, Josh Ritter takes a step back, returning to the simple folk sounds of his early recordings.

On his last two albums, Ritter has pushed against the boundaries of folk. He employed a full band to add pop embellishments to his songs and abandoned folk in favor of a rock-oriented sound.

On his latest release, Ritter retains the full band, but they play a much more subdued role. Instead of transforming Ritter’s songs into full-on rock, the band bolsters Ritter’s warm vocals with picked and strummed acoustic guitars, understated drums, soft background vocals and, once, the gentle crunch of an electric guitar.

Ritter also abandons the penchant for abstraction and storytelling that has played prominently in his recent work in favor of more intimate lyrics that sound like they’re being sung from one to another. These are love songs, plain and simple.

Although the songs on this release sound like vintage Josh Ritter, the fruits of his more recent wanderings show through. The album presents a much more polished sound than his earliest works, revealing a band that is able to play this highly polished set of songs with the organic naturalism of a front porch jam session.

Most of the songs on this outing are enjoyable but lack the lyrical and melodic force of Ritter’s strongest work. Only “Make Me Down” and “See Me Through” stand out as something special.

“Make Me Down” is a simple, lilting ballad. In it, Ritter asks only for a little rest and relaxation in the company of a lost love. In a line that slips out like an involuntary admission, Ritter confesses his true desire, “And I want you and that’s all.”

“See Me Through” is the album’s only song to flirt with Ritter’s rocking side. Ritter’s voice carries over a steady drumbeat and the occasional touch of electric guitar. Marrying hope and doubt, Ritter’s vocals carry an urgent tone, begging his darling to see him through.

With only six songs, it’s unclear whether “Bringing in the Darlings” offers an enticing hint at Ritter’s next full-length release or just a brief interlude in his trajectory away from his folky origins.

Despite adopting the style of his earliest albums, “Bringing in the Darlings” is not merely a reversion from an artist who’s run out of new ideas. It is the work of a musician who has learned to blend the best aspects of his talent into a coherent whole.

Wesley Teal
News Editor

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