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CD Reviews:  Review of Hello Starling by Josh Ritter


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Ever heard of Josh Ritter? You will. Hell, I blame myself for not digging him up in time for at least an Honorable Mention on my “Best of 2003” list. His latest, Hello Starling, has been out for a few months now with barely a whisper of acclaim. Take note, I say, as the sweeping new undercurrent of young singer/songwriters comes to shore, I can almost guarantee that this Ritter lad will be somewhere in the sand. 

The picking and grinning he does through the album’s simplest moment, “You Don’t Make It Easy, Babe,” will surely brand him Dylan. Meanwhile, the capricious shuffle “Man Burning” suggests Bowie vocals tumbling over Springsteen melodies, ala “One Step Up,” If you need a quick sample to draw your own conclusion, go download “Kathleen” from your favorite file-sharing site. If such a poignant and beautiful acoustic ditty doesn’t evoke the best of Dylan in its first listen, then this spoonful of sugar probably ain’t meant to cure what ails you. “And the next time we meet’s a new kind of hello, both our hearts have a secret only both of us know about,” may read like an adolescent note passed in Study Hall, but Ritter delivers it with a blood-boiling conviction that strangles every sense.

He commands a bashful yet potent lyrical skill, not unlike John Prine or even Ryan Adams, but Ritter injects a cleaner, better vocal range than either. Fingering his six-string like Dave Matthews without his band, Ritter manages to keep his voice front and always center, as if to prove the music will never outdo the message. I’ve read where he was born in Rhode Island but traveled extensively until getting heard. Clearly, his miles have not been racked up in vain. These songs display an experience and knowing that folks three times Ritter’s age might not be able to boast. In the dreamy passage “California,” he croons, “So I will work while work finds me, and I will take what comfort I can get, and I’ll be back when I’m good and ready, California doesn’t seem to think I’m ready yet.”

I think we’re ready, Josh. We’re ready for, and in great need of, the next batch of soulful singers and songwriters to stake their claim in the current backwash of corporate rock muck. So keep up the good work, young man, and if you find any worthy cohorts in those coffee shops along the way, go ahead and give them a ride, too. This might just be your year to break on through to the other side…if you care to?

~Red Rocker

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