This scraggly, well-wandered Rhode Islander may seem like another underachieving slacker, scrawling his name on small-town water towers and wooing the local girls with tipsy Townes Van Zandt tunes from his front porch, but Josh Ritter's gritty sensibility belies a Romantic (with a capital R) vision, a purposefulness that's deeper than just folksy charm. "This world must be frightening," he sings on his debut, Golden Age of Radio (Compass). "Everybody's on the run, but I can't leave this world behind."
Echoing the smartass tunefulness of Ryan Adams and the native humor of John Prine, Ritter rarely departs from the post-Dylan singer/songwriter world, though with songs as good as "Lawrence, KS" and "Come and Find Me," a deft fingerpicking guitar style and a backpack full of gracious, memorable melodies, why should he? In his world, the sun is always setting, the trains are always echoing on the edge of town, lovers are always leaving and heartsickness is a way of life. "There ain't a single thing that I've found with wings that decided to stay," he sings, with more than a touch of Nick Drake in his phrasing. Still, Ritter doesn't wallow in destiny's dead end; there's a light, hopeful breeze blowing through his strung-out vocal malaise. Ritter's wings may be made of "hay and cornhusks," but his best songs manage to glide gracefully, if not absolutely soar.