Why Literature-Lovers Should Listen To Josh Ritter

by Liam Kenney

Josh Ritter is a must listen for any lover of literature. Ritter is not only a world-class lyricist but is a master of allusions and allegories. Each time I listen to his music (and I’ve listened to it a lot)– I hear new reasons why he is my favorite artist.


Josh Ritter Utilizes Allusions

One tool Josh Ritter uses amazingly is allusions. Ritter knows that a good allusion isn’t just a line thrown in to prove that you’ve read a book (or at least the Sparks Notes), but a fresh insight into how the writer (or in this case singer) sees a particular work.

The first allusion I’d like to point out is from one of my favorite songs, Monster Ballads.

And I was thinking ’bout my river days
I was thinking ’bout me and Jim
Passing Cairo on a getaway
With every steamboat like a hymn

This reference to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, paints a new portrait of a picture every high schooler has already read. The lyrics make me think of Huck as an older man, maybe sitting on a rocking chair, staring at the Mississippi, thinking romantically back on his ‘river days’ with Jim.

josh_ritter_-_so_runs_the_world_away_artworkAnother of my favorite allusions in Ritter’s work is actually an album title. So Runs The World Away is Ritter’s sixth full-length album, and an allusion to *drumroll please* Hamlet. The tracks are held together thematically; all dealing with characters’ lives changing as the world slowly turns- and there is nothing that they can do to stop it.

For instance, in “Another New World” (off of So Runs the World Away), the narrator is an old sea captain who wants to find a new world in the north. The narrator journeys on his ship, the Annabel Lee (wonder if this is another reference… possibly Poe), which is the only thing he has in the world. By the end of the song, the narrator is forced to burn his ship to keep himself alive.

I can’t call it rescue,
what brought me back here to this old world to drink and decline,
Pretend that the search for another new world/
was well worth the burning of mine.

Josh Ritter’s Music Is Poetry

Every single line of Josh Ritter’s music sounds like poetry, and can be read, reread (or relistened to), and reinterpreted.

“The Curse” is a love story like you’ve never heard, and after each listen it makes me think differently about the two lovers involved. Every person I talk to has a different interpretation of what is happening in the relationship- if you haven’t listened to this one make sure to give it a try (I have never felt so emotion from a mummy before).

Josh Ritter’s music reads like poetry because of his fantastic and unique allegories.

One of my favorite songs (I know I keep saying that each song is one of my favorites- but trust me, they’re all diamonds), starts-

All the other girls here are stars,
You are the northern lights,
They try to shine in through your curtain
You’re too close, too bright

Kathleen is my favorite ‘love’ song of all time. It is easy to say a girl is beautiful or to compare her to a summer’s day, but the northern lights? Josh is sayin’ ‘Girl, even if all the other girls are stars, they ain’t NOTHIN’ compared to you when it comes to astrological events.’

Another line that always sticks out to me (promise this is the last one)-

Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied

When I first heard this song, I thought Ritter was saying everyone is damaged, but as I have listened and relistened, I’ve realized Ritter is telling us that we’re all waiting for that special someone that can undo the knots and open the package.

Josh Ritter is one of the most (if not the most) talented lyricists of this generation. His songs never cease to cheer me up when I’m sad or show me just how beautiful a place the world can be. If you’re still convinced (although if you’ve read this far..), here are a few of my personal favorites (this was hard to keep short).

(If you only listen to one make it this one!)

To the Dogs or Whoever

Getting Ready to Get


(This list could go on and on and on… just listen to all of ‘em…)



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