Since the first time I heard Animal Years in the spring of 2006, I’ve been a fan of Josh Ritter. I consider him one of the, if not the finest songwriters working today, and his albums have consistently been a staple of my top ten lists. Last year, just about this time, I met the man at South By Southwest, and I consider it one of the great moments of my life. All that makes this review much harder to write than it normally would be. Ritter is such a giant in my mind, that any kind of misstep is like a dagger in my heart. Bringing In The Darlings is the first time I’ve felt hurt by him, and worse than that he bored me while he did it.
This EP comes out in a transitional period for Ritter. After releasing So Runs The World Away in 2010, word came out that he was getting divorced from singer/songwriter Dawn Landes. He was finishing up a book (which ended up being quite good). He was touring around the world. Another EP came out last year, almost exactly a year before this one, called To The Yet Unknowing World. That record was enjoyable and could have served as enough of a taste to hold us over until the next full length(hell, just the song “Galahad” would have been enough for me). For whatever reason, he felt he needed to put these songs on wax and get them out to the people. Maybe recording six songs in Brooklyn was his way of returning to normal and filling a void that had been left over the last year or so.
There’s an odd feeling to these songs. Like he was trying to channel the soul of Roy Orbison and Hank Williams at the same time. Just listening to the heavily reverbed vocals on the second track “Love Is Making It’s Way Back Home” is enough to make me cringe. They did put together a good video for this song, but I have to watch it with the volume muted. The writing itself is also a bit off with a couple of the songs in this collection, and this is one example. It’s like he wrote the words and tried to force them into the song. This guy is usually the most elegant writer, and this comes off like a teenager trying to earn a passing grade in a poetry class.
And that’s what I don’t get. Most of these tracks are so UN-Ritter that I feel there was no reason for them to see the light of day. They came out of nowhere. Sometime before Valentine’s Day he announced a new EP, and it was released on the 21st. Maybe it was the swiftness of the release, but it seemed quite odd that there was absolutely no build up. Almost like someone knew these were throwaway songs that only real fans would buy (proving myself a true believer, I made my brother in Bloomington go to a record store and get me a vinyl 10″ that came with a signed poster-because no record stores in Chicago were participating!).
Now, since I’ve ranted enough about this record, I should mention that there is a gem included within this mess. The song “Make Me Down” is a well-written love song that matches up with some of the quality tunes found on other releases. It definitely has a country feel, with Ritter giving his voice a bit of a twang on some lyrics.
A little rest for a spell
A little water from your well
A little shade from the shade of your door
That is all that I need
And I believe those might be
The truest words that I’ve ever said before
The song borrows a little from the old blues standard “Make Me A Pallett On Your Floor,” which was originally recorded by Mississippi John Hurt in the 1920’s. (This info isn’t necessary to enjoy the song, but I think it is important to point out that Ritter’s knowledge of folk/blues is second to none).
As I’ve stated, I don’t think much of this EP. I wish it didn’t exist. But it does, and it is purely for diehard fans that need to own everything he puts out. If you haven’t heard Ritter’s music, this is definitely not a good point to start. Go back to Historical Conquests to get a better idea of what he’s capable of. The best thing, honestly, is to just go see him live. That’s where he really shines. I feel bad taking a piss on this release, but it’s really unnecessary and not up to par with anything else he’s done.