When he heard Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash’s duet “Girl from the North Country,” a teenage Josh Ritter ran out and bought a guitar. Cash, Dylan and Ritter share a few similarities: all three come from small towns in out-of-the-way parts of the country (in Cash’s case, a VERY small town), they all play their very own brand of Americana, and all three are some of the best songwriters of their generations.
Ritter grew up in Moscow, Idaho, a small, quiet college town in northern Idaho, on the Washington border. He moved east to Ohio for college, but decided that music was what he wanted to do, eventually finding himself in Boston making his living working temp jobs and doing open-mics. Ritter recorded his 2000 self-titled debut and 2001 sophomore record Golden Age of Radio on his own dime, but he wouldn’t be on his own for long. Glen Hansard heard his music, and invited Ritter to open up for his band the Frames on a tour back in their native Ireland. He was a hit across the pond, and his song “Me & Jiggs” landed itself on the Irish Top 40. His star was on the rise back home as well. Golden Age of Radio earned glowing reviews, and by 2006, Paste Magazine was ready to declare Ritter one of the “100 Best Living Songwriters” just a few years into his recording career.
Ritter stopped by the Four Seasons Friday morning during SXSW, and performed a few tunes for a live KUTX audience. One of them, “Joy to You Baby,” just happens to be our song of the day, and the studio version appears on latest record The Beast in Its Tracks, which came out earlier this month. Ritter wrote the album in the wake of his divorce, but the simple, lovely “Joy to You Baby” rings with bittersweet optimism. “If I never had met you, you couldn’t have gone. But then I wouldn’t have met you. We couldn’t have been. I guess it all adds up to joy to the end,” Ritter sings. It’s a sentiment that anyone that’s ever finally found peace after a breakup will recognize. It’s acceptance, it’s calm like a gentle breeze after a storm, and it’s a song like this that makes Ritter one of the best songwriters around.