The title of Josh Ritter’s new album (The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter) is the first indication that the acclaimed folk-singer from Idaho might not be taking himself so seriously. With the portrait of a Roman general helmet that asks you to humor the songwriter until you put the album in your CD player, Ritter seems to be making himself the official musical artist of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius author Dave Eggers’ tongue-in-cheek literary humor website McSweeney’s.
The rambling Dylan-esque opening track “To the Dogs or Whoever” seems to confirm that theory by using words to convey sarcasm and desperation, much like Eggers’ book mixed absurdity and the anguish. Two tracks later, “The Temptation of Adam” brings back the Ritter that has made him the critics’ darling for the last five years. Ritter’s sparse poignant acoustic guitar and subdued horns and strings begin to tell the stories of love and attraction that is so close but never found.There is a lot of sour that comes with the traces of rollicking sweet that recall Spoon and Nick Lowe. There’s a lot to love on Historical Conquests, and like Ritter’s literary counterpart Dave Eggers, this could finally be Ritter’s breakthrough, or at the very least, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.