Josh Ritter: Golden Age of Radio

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr

Josh Ritter

Golden Age of Radio

Label: Signature
US Release Date: 2002-01-22
"After Bob Dylan took his guitar case on the road to New York . . . he inspired an earnest army of guitar poets who took a dubious message from his example: that songs had to be homemade in order to be deeply, authentically felt by their listeners."
-- Nathan Ward

On the opening cut of Golden Age of Radio, Josh Ritter's vocal and guitar meld together to create a hypnotic hum reminiscent of Nick Drake on his last album, Pink Moon. The soothing whisper mesmerizes the listener, and one is ready to turn down the lights and drink in Son of Pink Moon. It is somewhat surprising when the second track, "Me & Jiggs", switches the entire sonic palette to a folk-rock mode. While this switch is surprising, it is neither jarring nor a let down. In fact, a great hook on the chorus of "Me & Jiggs" makes the song catchier than "Come and Find Me".

One other lovely Drake inspired piece, "You've Got the Moon", makes an appearance. The satisfying mix and tasteful arrangements, with two acoustic guitars and a bass, work together to produce a full, spacious sound. On both "Come and Find Me" and "You've Got the Moon", Ritter delivers his lyrics in a warm, melancholy voice, perfectly suited to the acoustic format.

The remainder of the album mixes an alternative country sound with a singer-songwriter's sensibility (Todd Snider, Slaid Cleaves). While songs like "Lawrence, Ks." and "Anne" are good, they fail to live up to the promise and originality of the first three pieces. Like a number of Americana bands (the Cash Brothers, the Gourds), Ritter's vocal drone on these pieces evokes a mood that's about as happy as a Smiths' song. A gentler, more acoustic based "Leaving" lifts the veil of sadness for a few moments (musically if not lyrically), only to have it return on "Other Side" and "Harrisburg".

Part of the gloomy mood of Golden Age of Radio derives from Ritter's lyrics, though one will have to click onto his web-site to find them in written form. While it's worth the trouble, the need to do so is a little disconcerting: it's fun to pour over the words as one listens to an album (of course one can just print them out, if he or she wants 10 pages of loose leaf lyrics lying about). Lyrics like "But June is like an echo / Of the sounds we never made" from "Songs for the Fireflies" and "But I know you've got what you need to be / Happy someplace East of me" on "Roll On" reveal the gloomy state of things. Love doesn't last, and that's real sad, but one can at least write songs about it. It's also interesting to note a reference to Townes Van Zandt in "Me & Jiggs". Van Zandt's name and songs pop up more often now than when he was alive, as though artists are mapping out their musical pedigrees.

As these lyrics show, singer-songwriter Ritter, like most singer-songwriters, is more interested in the workings of his own heart and mind than the workings of the universe. Mood and feeling replace social content. The problem is separating oneself from the singer-songwriter pack. With hundreds of songs set to clever lyrics about lost love and searching for one's personal identity, the words, melodies, and vocals sometimes appear interchangeable. Nathan Ward also argues in American Heritage that the singer-songwriter tradition attempts to encompass too much. Instead of being a great writer, like Cole Porter, or a great interpreter, like Billie Holiday, the singer-songwriter tries to do both. While certain artists like Bob Dylan have what it takes to pull that off, most don't.

Sonically, Golden Age of Radio has much to recommend it. Neatly arranged acoustic guitars, organ, and steady percussion warmly fill a listening room. Add carefully thought-out arrangements and an aurally pleasing stereo mix, and one's left with a lovingly produced album. Song-wise and lyrically, however, the material fails to sustain Golden Age of Radio's exquisite, evocative beginning.





Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Mobley Laments the Evil of "James Crow" in the US

Austin's Mobley makes upbeat-sounding, soulful pop-rock songs with a political conscience, as on his latest single, "James Crow".


Jordan Tice's "Bad Little Idea" Is a Satirical Spin on Dire Romance (premiere)

Hawktail's Jordan Tice impresses with his solo work on "Bad Little Idea", a folk rambler that blends bluesy undertones with satiric wit.


Composer Ilan Eshkeri Discusses His Soundtrack for the 'Ghost of Tsushima' Game

Having composed for blockbuster films and ballet, Ilan Eshkeri discusses how powerful emotional narratives and the opportunity for creative freedom drew him to triple-A video game Ghost of Tsushima.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Love and Cinema: The Ruinous Lives in Żuławski's L'important c'est d'aimer

Żuławski's world of hapless also-rans in L'important C'est D'aimer is surveyed with a clear and compassionate eye. He has never done anything in his anarchic world by the halves.


On Bruce Springsteen's Music in Film and TV

Bruce Springsteen's music in film and television captured author Caroline Madden's imagination. She discuses her book, Springsteen as Soundtrack, and other things Springsteen in this interview.


Alt-pop's merci, mercy Warns We May "Fall Apart"

Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter, merci, mercy shares a video for her catchy, sophisticated anthem, "Fall Apart".


Tears in Rain: 'Blade Runner' and Philip K. Dick's Legacy in Film

Blade Runner, and the work of Philip K. Dick, continues to find its way into our cinemas and minds. How did the visions of a paranoid loner become the most relevant science fiction of our time?


London Indie-Poppers the Motive Impress on "You" (premiere)

Southwest London's the Motive concoct catchy, indie-pop earworms with breezy melodies, jangly guitars, and hooky riffs, as on their latest single "You".


Vigdis Hjorth's 'Long Live the Post Horn!' Breathes Life into Bureaucratic Anxiety

Vigdis Hjorth's Long Live the Post Horn! is a study in existential torpor that, happily, does not induce the same condition in the reader.


Konqistador and HanHan Team for Darkwave Hip-Hop on "Visaya"

Detroit-based electronic/industrial outfit, Konqistador team with Toronto hip-hopper HanHan for "Visaya", a song that blends darkwave and rap into an incendiary combination.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.