When it comes to accolades, 29-year-old Josh Ritter has 'em to burn. He's been called "a young songwriter who finds extravagant romance in the everyday" (the New York Times) and "a new, crusading folk troubadour" (the London Sunday Times). In less formal settings, he's been deemed "face-lickingly cute." But whichever superlatives you choose, The Animal Years exceeds them. Considerably more complex than Ritter's two previous LPs, Years somehow manages to be both spirit-buoying and bone-chilling. His lyrics, which pierce the heart of blind religiosity ("Thin Blue Flame") and wrongheaded politics ("Girl in the War"), are reminiscent of early Bruce Springsteen and Leonard Cohen. But Ritter's clearly carving out a wholly unique place for himself, and he's worked like hell to get there (to this day, the Idaho native finds his biggest audiences in Ireland, thanks to the support of Irish folk-rock heroes the Frames). With Animal Years an eleven-song masterpiece that goes from plaintive to triumphant, finger-picking to orchestral Josh Ritter has recorded an album American listeners can't afford to ignore, and it's an early pick for one of the best albums of 2006.