The potato state songwriter, Josh Ritter, who brought us such theologically thickening and poetically penetrating songs as “Girl in the War” and “Temptation of Adam” released his 6th album this week. So Runs the World Away is an album of exploration, lyrically, mythically, thematically, and for us who have the habit of hearing everything this way, theologically.
Theologically speaking, Ritter voices the questions that keep theologians up at night in ways that leave me doubting whether he thinks an Easter Sunday may be just around the next Saturday or that it was 2,000 years ago and a bit anti-climactic. On the hopeful side, his “Lark” questions the source of beauty trickling down through the natural world and answers with a simple assurance that alludes to Philippians 4:7, saying, “peace will come yes/a peace that can yes surpass the speed yes/of my understanding and my need.” Following in the footsteps of “Temptation of Adam,” Ritter’s “Lantern” continues to show faith in inter-personal human relationships and the “light” we can provide for each other even though the rest of the world is “dark as death.” His hopeful humanism is best expressed in the lines, “For every cry in the night/Somebody says, ‘Have faith’/ ‘Be content inside your questions’/ ‘Minotaurs inside a maze’/ Tell me what’s the point of light/that you have to strike a match to find?/ So throw away Lamentations/We both know them all too well/ If there’s a Book of Jubilations/ We’ll have to write it for ourselves.”
Philip Clayton could easily read the movement of the Spirit in the evolution of creation into “Orbital” where “everything that went to make up everything/ was wrapped up tight inside a grain/ of great insistence/ Then someone gave the great command/ All things paired off for the dance.” Through this dance, Ritter explores love, gravity, law, and all those things that bring us together while affirming the ability of such binding agents to change the character of our relationships to one another.
The two most complete lyrics are “The Curse” and “Another New World.” “The Curse” explores a common Christian theme of the ironic intimacy between one’s curse and one’s cure. In it, Ritter awakens a mummy for the purpose of loving the woman who found him and the curse/cure that comes from such seeking and finding. In “Another New World,” Ritter’s hero falls in love with a ship who gives her own body to save her beloved. But even this song of failure and loss ends in sweet dreams of a lost lover redeemed. Such dreams take me back to the first song on the album, “Change of Time,” which sweetly mourns the “rough seas” that “carry me wherever I go” with a sweeping refrain that calms all anxieties in the depressing but accepting affirmation that “it’s only a change of time.” The album does not preach the Gospel hope, but it does display a hopeful faith in those things that bind us, such as time, love, light, death, and gravity with disarming beauty and a redeeming heart.
– This is my brother Steven’s first attempt at blogging. Tell him nice things.
– For more Ritter check out him discussing all the songs and decide if Steven engaged in reader-response listening or was on target. Ohh and if you love awesome acoustic goodness get over to DayTrotter and check out Josh live in their studio doing his audible sweetness. You can even download free stuff there. Paste magazine’s review is live here.