‘Tuned In’ review: Aching Josh Ritter frees his ‘Beast’

'The Beast in Its Tracks' by Josh Ritter

"The Beast in Its Tracks" by Josh Ritter

Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter is an expert storyteller, and his poetic lyrics were in full effect on his 2010 release, “So Runs the World Away,” which was loaded with symbolism and metaphors.

Well, his world changed soon after he put out “So Runs”: He split from his wife, singer Dawn Landes, and set about unloading his despair and bitterness in a flurry of songwriting. He then recorded the new material with longtime collaborator Sam Kassirer, using spare arrangements to capture his gutted feelings.

There’s nothing like the inspiration of heartbreak, which Ritter conveys directly and without gratuitous showing off on “The Beast in Its Tracks.” He also blends in references to a new gal, using her as both a relief from his pain and as a weapon against his ex.

Not surprisingly, the blackest stuff has the most impact. Ritter addresses the deterioration of a relationship on the deceptively sweet-sounding “Evil Eye” with, “Remember how he used to hold you close/Now in the middle of the night … oh, oh the evil eye.” Then, in the whimsy-kissed context of “Hopeful,” he cuts to the quick recalling his abandonment with, “I followed her out into the street in the rain/And the whole world stopped spinning and just went up in flames,” sardonically adding, “She’s hopeful for me.”

Ritter often breaks out the artillery with the new woman. For instance, on “The Appleblossom Rag” he pathetically notes about his ex that the, “only thing she left me is this appleblossom rag” and goes on to comment, “This new girl’s the girl for me.”

On two cuts he makes reference to that new girl as resembling the old girl in “a certain light,” including the track titled “A Certain Light,” where he proclaims, “My new lover, sweet and kind/The kind of love that one rarely finds … I feel it so much more than the last time.” And he flaunts his new, uncomplicated relationship on “New Lover” with, “I only want to hold her, I don’t need to read her mind.”

Sure, it’s a bit immature. But it’s raw and genuine.

Besides, Ritter mans up and lets go at the end, wishing his ex, “Joy to you baby … wherever you are tonight” and on the lullaby closer, “Lights,” he concludes, “Every heart on Earth is dark half the time.”

And painful as it is, that darkness is powerful .

Rating: 4 stars (out of five)

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