"Galahad" // Josh Ritter // To the Yet Unknowing World EP
"Galahad" isn’t actually from So Runs the World Away, but comes from those same sessions and was released on a separate EP. As with so many of the songs from this album, we get a fully detailed story; however, this one isn’t even close to being sad. “In heaven, there’s no lamb chops / Queen Guineveres for hand jobs, marijuana, Kenny Rodgers, or ecstasy,” the angel tells Galahad when asking him why he wants to go to heaven. While Josh sticks to tradition in "Folk Bloodbath," we have a (clearly) non-traditional retelling here.
The other thing I love about this song is Galahad is bisexual; he’s just as into the stable boys as he is to Queen Guinevere, which is not normally how we view Galahad. I can’t find much about Galahad being bi anywhere else, but I love how it’s dealt with here: it’s not a punchline and I find it to be a nice little detail thrown in there. We don’t get many bisexual protagonists anywhere, much less in songs, so I’m pleased Josh made this change. Just because we’re playing with history doesn’t mean that everyone has to be straight.
“Rattling Locks” // Josh Ritter // So Runs the World Away
You remember my post on “Rumors” and how that’s one of Josh’s angriest songs? “Rattling Locks” takes that to a whole different level. This is the kind of song that, when you listen to it, you think, oh shit, someone’s really got it out for the world. This song isn’t bragging, but more of a ferocious diatribe against someone who just keeps stealing your love away. You can hear the rain pouring down and just picture someone standing outside a castle, rattling chains and yelling real loud, but nobody even bothers to come check him out. (This is a song I’ve never seen live with the full band, but I’ll take whatever videos I can get; I just wanna see the Royal City Band standing on stage, all clacking drumsticks together.)
Josh is really good with the celestial metaphors (similes, whatever). We got a song a while back about a girl who’s like the Northern lights, but now this girl is a black hole, sucking everything without spitting any light back. What’s more, this song is unrepentant: “Rumors” showed a desire to learn, perhaps even to change his future. “Rattling Locks” is just a whole bunch of anger and then… he leaves. He gives up. Rather than rattling her locks, he’d rather spend a night in Hell. It’s not worth it anymore., clearly This is so different than the happy Josh that we normally see, but what a release of emotion. And while the songs on his next record never get quite this angry, there’s a lot more emotion where this came from.
“The Curse” // Josh Ritter // So Runs the World Away
We’re moving into So Runs the World Away now. If The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter was like a giant comic book, So Runs is more like a series of huge historical woven tapestries, or like "they were painted in oil on large canvasses," in Josh’s own words. It’s large, it’s expansive, and it takes its time so much more than the last album, running 54 minutes long. It’s longer and there’s more room to breathe and move around, like that hollow feeling you get when you do a yoga stretch. And perhaps there is no song more representative of this shift than “The Curse.”
If you’ve never heard this song before, you’re in for a real treat. Also: watch the video. Don’t just leave it hanging out in the background. The video makes this a zillion times more heartbreaking, and it’s already really sad.
This song is one of Josh’s most well-known songs and, my God, what a story. The bare-bones of the plot is a mummy falls in love with an archaeologist. Yet this song is more than just a simple love story. I think it fits the medium well. If this were merely a short story, I’m not sure it would work so beautifully: it might get weighted down and clunky, but five minutes of music lets this love affair spin itself out. The melody is pretty simple, allowing the lyrics to shine. I mean, just look at the second verse:
He holds back a sigh as she touches his arm
She dusts off the bed where till now he’s been sleeping
Under miles of stone, the dried fig of his heart
Under scarab and bone starts back to its beating
“The dried fig of his heart.” I love that. What laser-precise language; you can picture it immediately and know what it feels like to wake up after thousands of years, even though you’ve never been a mummy yourself. (If you have, I’ve been making gross assumptions, and I do apologize.) This is Next Level Storytelling, to be honest. Anyone can make you cry by making you grow attached to characters for fifteen pages, only to have their love meet a tragic end. Josh accomplishes the same effect over the course of five minutes, only to make you gasp when that last verse comes in. (Really, the video also deserves credit here, too—I forget how sad this song is until I see those marionettes twirling around.) I only wish I could do that with my own writing.
"Wait for Love" and "Wait for Love (You Know You Will)" // Josh Ritter // The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
Josh Ritter doesn’t do too many two-part songs; in fact, I can’t think of any beyond these two. They act as (sort-of) bookends for Historical Conquests, with “Wait for Love” serving as a coda for Part I of the album and “Wait for Love (You Know You Will)” as a rousing ending for the whole album.
These songs have the same lyrics, although the instrumentation (and mood) of each song varies wildly. “Wait for Love” is quiet, strung-out and unassuming, something that drifts by easy in the summer breeze. It’s more of a meditation, and perhaps more patient than its sister song: you’re making me wait, but maybe you’re absolutely worth the wait. This is the kind of song you might play on your guitar to try to win someone over, just to convince them to stop waiting and to join you.
"Wait For Love (You Know You Will)" is a different song altogether, even with the same lyrics. A crowd of people is singing (to the dogs or whoever) and the speaker is perhaps not as patient as he once was when singing; Josh’s delivery is a little more decisive in this version. Percussion crashes in the background and, overall, it feels way more like sitting around a campfire. Funnily enough, this version still feels personal, even with a whole group singing and the story becoming a little more universal. Moving between the personal and the universal is something we’ll see a little bit more of in the future of Josh’s music, particularly when we talk about The Beast in its Tracks—but for now, both sides are on display here.