When Moscow, Idaho native Josh Ritter graduated and drifted away from Oberlin College in the spring of 1999, he left behind a shockingly assertive debut record that belied both his age and experience. Ritter came across with a folksy bent that, in wonderful moments, would splinter into the down-and-outisms of Tom Waits and assert itself as a less fatalistic musical version of a noir pulp novella. After a move to Providence, Rhode Island, and a year of touring, Ritter has finally released the follow-up to his self-titled nascent effort. Golden Age of Radio is a sparse, lean record that finds Ritter digging deep into the quiet Waitsian ideals that he touched upon earlier and coming up with a series of extraordinarily personal and highly lonesome sounds.
Motion remains a major theme for Ritter, and songs titled "Roll On," "Leaving," and "Drive Away" all project the anxious insecurities of people who refuse to get too close to each other because of the imagined pain of a seemingly inevitable separation. Ritter's musical poems about places ("Harrisburg" and the aching "Lawrence, KS") extend these associative fears to specific locales. Golden Age of Radio moves Ritter beyond the more current neotraditional folkish movements in the way it treats these songs atmospherically, rather than dwelling in the guitar/troubadour idiom. Certainly not flawless (there are slips where Ritter sounds too folksy for the subject matter), Golden Age of Radio is a mature step forward that portends an interesting future for an artist just getting started.