Destination Unknown

Josh Ritter and the journey for its own sake.

Josh Ritter
Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter is constantly moving. Whether he’s caravaning through the Palouse or jet-setting abroad, wanderlust captivates him.

“One of the things that was really interesting to me while writing this album was exploration,” says the Moscow, Idaho, native of his latest album, So Runs the World Away. “I was reading a lot about the last quarter of the 19th century, trying to find the source of the Nile and the polar ice caps ... These great huge stories.”

The album finds him mixing traditional stories of grand romance with a more adventurous bent. The best songs on the album, obviously, are the love songs — that’s Ritter’s milieu.

“You can cover a lot of ground in [love songs], but they’re also perfect for describing a moment or an archetypal situation — which romance totally is,” Ritter says.

On So Runs the World Away, romance takes on different forms: an explorer singing a tender ode to his ship as he burns it for warmth, an ancient mummy waking up and falling in love with the archaeologist who cracked open his tomb. The real winners, though, draw on a finite sense of place — a geographical specificity that few artists can pull off.

“What I find is very attractive about exploration is that those mythical cities like El Dorado exist in our minds — we make them up,” he says. “Livingston may have found the source of the Nile, maybe he didn’t. I don’t think that anyone was actually looking for the city of gold, but it was a chance to go out and explore.”

Ritter explores the darker side of exploration, too. Savage beasts lurk in the jungle of his subconscious mind. Lonely ghosts. Visions of hell. It’s not all grand voyages and quiet heartache. Ritter reaches for a deeper sense of personal meaning on this album — something that he hasn’t quite hit on previous albums.

Across So Runs the World Away, Ritter makes connections and references to his previous work, as if he’s building a mythology of his own. It’s incomplete, but Ritter’s legacy is starting to show. Time may yet put him amongst his own heroes. One day, his name might be mentioned alongside Cohen and Dylan. He’s still young enough, though, to just enjoy the expedition on its own merits.

“There’s no perfect song out there,” he says. “You’re just going out there to try and find something and satisfy your own curiosity about the world.”

Josh Ritter plays with Darren Smith • Fri, Nov. 5, at 8:30 pm • Knitting Factory • $18.50- $20 • All-ages • • 244-3279

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