Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Grant Johnson at Good Danny's, Austin, Texas
For many of the songs on Josh Ritter's new album, "The Beast In Its Tracks," but especially on "The Appleblossom Rag," you hear what nights can become. You hear what homes can become and you hear what people can become after they have been through something unpleasant, when they just don't know what to do with themselves, where their hands should go, how they are supposed to just sit still or why they can't just break everything they see, thinking that it will make them feel a little better. They've thought about such actions and they know that the emptiness will be there at the end of such a display. It might even be worse, so they just shut down a little. They go within themselves.
What Ritter puts into "The Appleblossom Rag," are the sounds and sensations that you might expect to hear in a kitchen that's suddenly been rendered much less joyful than it's been in a very long time. It's now become a place of echoes and furrowed brows, of stewing and contemplation that never goes anywhere cheerful, just to the darkest parts of those cups of coffee that keep getting topped off. You can imagine that you're hearing someone move about the kitchen, preparing meals for one, for someone who's lost his taste, one who's lost his energy to be too picky about what's going to be served up. You can hear teeth and a throat working the food. You can hear a fork or spoon scraping unavoidably against the plate. You can hear the booming sounds of the dirtied dishes being placed in the sink after a rinse. You can hear these sounds as residue, as a muted shuffling - the silence cast.
They are reflections of the state of a man who has taken a pounding, who has been shown a new way to hurt that had never been envisioned before. Ritter wrote "The Beast In Its Tracks," as a way to cope with a painful divorce and they are both biting and beautiful. They deal with the hurt in what you'd think is an appropriate way - taking on the preposterous emotions of a damaged lover and the knowledge that there's nothing that can come of any of this aside from healing of some form. It's all unpleasant, but there are no alternatives other than moving on and attempting to sew up the wounds that can be found everywhere inside and outside the body.
Ritter sizes it all up, when he sings:
"Praise the water under bridges, the time they say will heal
Praise the fonder, that still grows on the absent heart and fields
Praise be to this pain, these days it's all I seem to feel.
Perhaps the fault was mine
Perhaps I just ignored who you were always gonna be,
Instead of who I took you for.
I've been treated worse it's true, still I expected more.
But I will not chase your shadow as you go from room to room,
Droppin' handkerchiefs and daggers, smokin' guns and other clues
For what someone did with someone and who did what to who.
I've got a new lover now, I hope you've got a lover too."