Josh Ritter The Historical Conquests Of Josh Ritter

The Animal Years, the previous release from this American songsmith, was a stunning tour-de-force. It was poetically (and politically) eloquent and musically adventurous, and deserved a much better fate (the demise of his label, V2, didn’t help). Ritter rebounds in rather surprising fashion here. Reportedly tired of the "air of gravitas” around him, he’s stripped things down, going for a much more direct approach. On first listen, this sounds like a dumbing down, as demonstrated by the AM pop rock feel of "Right Moves” and "Mind’s Eye.” There’s more Josh Rouse than the Josh Ritter of old but his strengths as a singer and melodic writer are such that the tunes become embedded in the brain. A horn section beefs up the jaunty "Rumors,” and strings are used judiciously. A simpler tune like the gently affecting "Wait For Love” shows that less can be more, and repeated listening reveals extra subtleties. Still, to these ears it’s not quite the historic conquest of The Animal Years. (Redink/Sony)