Nothing quite beats the power of a song that arrives perfectly. It can be the melody from a distant window, a guilty-pleasure piece of pop fluff or even the exquisitely wrong song at the wrong time. The fact is that life can be the best d.j. of them all. A song or an artist can land in your life in the most profound and mysterious ways and from that moment on that record defines an afternoon, a season, a city or a life. Such it is with Golden Age of Radio, an album that casts a spell from first note to last. Josh Ritter had already made a record before it, but Golden Age was his first as a fully-committed, this is my life and there’s no heading back recording artist. The album arrived with a suitcase full of promise, bags packed perfectly. The music has the assurance and the sly commitment of a writer capturing exactly the mood he was chasing.
Recorded in 2001 the magic begins with the opening track, “Come and Find Me”. That one song will forever remind me of the summer of 2004. We were working on Elizabethtown, a tough movie to make and finish, but we always knew where we were headed when we played “Come and Find Me”. It became our emotional touchstone. We played it a lot. And like any great song, it pretty much claimed every room it was played in. Josh is one of those rare artists who writes and performs with an open heart. Some of these songs recall the nobility of a young Johnny Cash, or the scuffling Paul Simon, but it’s all Josh’s artful travelogue.
As a storyteller, he’s fueled by the legend and lore of characters arriving and leaving, celebrating sadness and exhilaration equally, but his songs can sometimes feel like private snapshots kept in dresser drawers. Those are my favorites. And always, almost out of nowhere, Josh can slay you with the line you didn’t see coming. “June” is like an echo of the sounds we never made, he sings in “Song For the Fireflies”. It s the kind of lyrical perfection that arrives easily, and somehow never leaves. Ritter’s own lore is that “Me and Jiggs”, the album’s second song, was an unplanned-for hit in Ireland. The Frames, never one to lag in the taste department, took him on tour and a fevered early Irish acceptance was born.
Songs like “You’ve Got The Moon” announced a very big arrival, a talent just rounding the first bend of his career. The big journey had begun, and these home-recorded lo-fi gems took flight on the stages of the world. Today, his audience continues to grow steadily and passionately and the early power of Golden Age endures, like the stripped-down brilliance of Buddy Holly’s The Apartment Tapes. And so a tip of our hats to Golden Age of Radio. Just around the bend would come Hello Starling, The Animal Years and Historical Conquests, but the building blocks were all there in Golden Age. This is a record that will always whisk me back to a Southern summer filled with purpose, memories and the sound of 17 year-old cicadas on their last big, noisy wing-ding. That summer. When one song and one artist meant the world, and still does.