Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Shawn Biggs
The Daytrotter recording studio, the Horseshack, sits on the third floor of a brick building two blocks south of the mighty Mississippi River. The water's always topsy-turvy and the current will quickly and fatally wash you into the turbines of a lock and dam before you know it if you're ever to get tossed into it. It's a fat and alive ribbon of chocolate, catfish-filled water that reaches the entire vertical length of middle America. You can taste Minnesota soil in it all the way down in New Orleans, where it washes into the ocean, where the catfish meet many new breeds of fish, if they make it that far. Our cross streets here in Rock Island, Illinois are Highway 92 and the great Highway 61, which Bobby Dylan has written of before. It's a highway that Jack Kerouac spent time on in writing one of America's greatest books. It's a point where the meeting of the east and the west used to be considered. There are still hotels and businesses that pride themselves as being the first of their kind "west of the Mississippi." It's a meeting of land and the big river where things carry some timeless authenticity that singer and songwriter Josh Ritter likely appreciates in a deep way. The Idaho-born man seems to have ingested the riches of the folklore of America - of the purple mountain majesty as well as the waving and endless fields of grain. He's likely had a keen ear and eye on this young country's vastness and it's history, both socially and artistically, since he was a young boy, discovering Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Garth Hudson, Rick Danko, Mr. Dylan, Randy Newman, another Canadian like Leonard Cohen, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart and dreaming of days when he could get out there on the lonely, lovely highways and experience the spaces and places that they themselves were trying to eat and experience rare - still kicking. Ritter's music comes across as magically American and exasperating, ambition-filled and optimistically charged, as if there were a grand flame roasting from his most honest and truthful insides, where he hides his most treasured assets. One gets an immediate sense that this is a guy who's from a place like Moscow, Idaho (even if you had no idea that a city of said name even existed), a place where he could have been shaped by the brightness and clarity of all of the celestial things hanging out in a clear night sky. He's a guy who lives strongly through these sensations of being alone in time, not plugged in to everything else out there. He's a wandering soul who dips into big, sweeping ideas of romantic thought and the ways in which man should (or could) relate to all that's going on around him, if he were to stand beside himself or herself long enough to realize that all of this stuff is shadowy and towering comparative to all of the thoughts we're normally preoccupied with. He delivers stories that feel as if they've grown their own hearts and could drag the awe and applause out of crowds without anyone playing them, as if they could do the affecting on their own. But they do have this creator in Ritter, who's as good as they get on his upcoming new album "So Runs The World Away," in his way of making all of our skies open up, seem like a colossal Illinois or Idaho canvas - brighter and more frightening/inspiring than ever.