If scoring the opening slot on a Jamie Cullum tour suggests back-room deals to remake bookish troubadour Josh Ritter
in the jazz gentry's image, followers of his scruffy, pensive sound can only say, "Lots of luck." On his recent release, The Animal Years
, Ritter's waifish exterior belies a certain professionalism, but mostly certain dark expressionism wolves and war, starvation and thirst, Freudian dreams and arcane spirituality which makes for poor Starbucks sipping. The Moscow, Idaho, native distends his acoustic parables with piano, synths, ukuleles and stumbled-upon effects and his voice, for all its sly control, primarily calls to ghostly muses, lovers that may exist only in his irreducibly private but ample imagination.