The works of Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth and Stephen King are probably not the first influences that come to mind for a songwriter. But after hearing Josh Ritter sing, it quickly becomes apparent why authors are important to the Moscow, Idaho, native.
“I’ve always loved people that let bad stuff happen to their characters,” Ritter says on his tour bus parked outside the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. “Because if you’re going to make a song a story, something has to happen. And most of the time, something bad has to happen.”
For Ritter, 33, mostly good has been happening since his self-released debut in 1999 and then opening for Glen Hansard and his band the Frames in Ireland. His fifth full-length and latest album, ‘So Runs the World Away,’ came out in late April.
In 2006, Paste Magazine named Ritter one of the 100 best living songwriters. NPR Music’s All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen said of Ritter’s new album, “I’ve come to expect good records from him, but this one took my breath away.”
Yet despite the critical acclaim for his music, Ritter seems most at ease when talking about classic literature and why he enjoys reading Shakespeare. “So Runs the World Away” was named after a line from Hamlet, a character Ritter said he could relate to.
“Hamlet is obviously so much like all of us,” Ritter said, “very mercurial and confused.”
In his song “The Curse,” Ritter tells the story of a mummy who falls in love with an archeologist, singing, “After thousands of years, what a face to wake up to.”
Josh Ritter has tour dates across the United States through much of the summer.