The Animal Years, arguably seen as the best Josh Ritter album by many, has impenetrably embedded itself in my life. I find myself going back to it over and over again, from the non-stop listening at its release to now, four years later. When I tell people they should be listening to Josh Ritter (and everyone should be), I tell them to pick up The Animal Years and try to resist falling in love.
No one can ignore the album opener, "Girl In the War", possibly the best known and loved Josh Ritter track. This song is simply incredible, filled with biblical references and desperation that almost seem to grab you and hold you still as the song pours into you.
The amazing harmonies and piano on "Wolves" are what draw you into this track. It somehow captures the feeling of a song that you've known your entire life. The lyrics reflect this as well:
"at times in the frozen nights I go roaming / in the bed she used to share with me / I wake in the fields with the cold and the lonesome / the moon's the only face that I see / but I still remember that time when we were dancing / we were dancing to a song that I'd heard / your face was simple and your hands were naked / I was singing without knowing the words"
"Lillian, Egypt" is a song that begs to be immediately loved, it's signature Josh Ritter lighthearted storytelling that is reminiscent of some of Josh's earlier songs. From the upbeat, playful tone of "Lillian" the album then goes into the melancholy "Idaho", Josh's lyrical prowess on display with the sparse instrumental presence.
As The Animal Years closes down, the unforgettable "Thin Blue Flame" comes into play. The first time I heard this song was in concert. I wanted to hear the song again before the entire thing was finished. I spent hours hunting down live recordings and transcribing the lyrics. I don't know where to begin describing the power encased in every second of its nine minutes. The imagery is brash and vivid; coursing through your head and heart like water through a broken dam. It is the sort of song that might bring certain Ruckus writers to tears live. There is a standing rule among many of us as well that you can't turn off the car until "Thin Blue Flame" has finished.
Animal Years closes out with a signature Ritter heartbreaker, "Here At The Right Time", a piano driven piece, paralleling the opener. I'm not sure where this song comes from, but it is raw and simple and I identify with it in that aspect.
"you're so red in the eyes / either too low or too high / when I met you you were sick / but you did not know why / I was a pretty poor cure / But my love for you was always sure"
I could tell you why I love every track on this album, but please listen for yourself. Let yourself get wrapped up in the stories told throughout The Animal Years.
Josh Ritter - Good Man