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Strummer Of Discontent
After years of thankless toil, Josh Ritter finally had the world at his feet. And then, just as he should have been at his happiest, he suffered a sudden crisis of confidence. Sick of the sound of his own voice, the Idaho bard felt trapped in an artistic prison he himself had devised. His struggle for freedom is chronicled on his wrenching new album, perhaps the finest of his career. Hot Press meets him in New York to discuss the long road to redemption.
Peter Murphy, 05 May 2010
A singer, a writer, an artist, works for years to find their own voice. But what if, after some measure of success and affirmation, they grow sick of the sound of that voice?
Five albums into his career, and approaching the age of Jesus, Idaho-born songwriter Josh Ritter thought his goose was cooked, al Dante. Midway through his allotted years, he came to himself with a start and realised that he had strayed from the True Way into the Dark Wood of Error. In February 2010, from the safety of retrospect, he would later write:
“After my last record, Historical Conquests, a feeling came stealing over me that I had a reckoning of sorts in store for myself. It was a new feeling, sinister in its emptiness, and it came falling across me unawares and inexplicably quickly, like a cold shadow, and then passed.”
And well it might have passed, for Ritter was, on the face of it, in a very good place. His records were selling well in his native US as well as his adopted Ireland. He was playing prestigious shows like his 2007 set at the 9.30 Club in Washington DC, broadcast on NPR and released as a live album. Newly married to Kentucky singer-songwriter Dawn Landes, he had achieved financial security and attracted praise from peers like Bruce Springsteen, Stephen King and Dennis Lehane. All was rosy in the garden. Until, that is, he began to write songs for his sixth album. Day after day he sought a theme, and sought it in vain. The circus animals had deserted.
“One day the shadow fell across me and it stayed there,” he wrote. “I wanted to write and I wanted to play, but nothing, nothing felt right. And more than that, nothing felt original. I wrote and wrote. Nothing came and if it did, it was the same old stuff as before. My old songs came ringing back, silly, bereft of love or intent. I felt at times as if I was hovering just above myself, watching the mediocrity of my afternoon threatening to spread across the month and years into a lost decade. And when someone asked me in the future what had I done, would they ever believe how hard I had worked for nothing? The shadow hung and I held on, hated and hoped for a single verse of something, anything at all that I could love.”