Friday, 20 December 2013


The Idaho troubadour serves up a pre-Christmas tonic of comforting Americana for Derry-Londonderry's Millennium Forum

Nearly ten years after he adorned the then future City Of Culture with his blend of alternative country folk rock, highly regarded Idaho singer-songwriter Josh Ritter returns to Derry-Londonderry with a new album and a new acoustic tour, with a three-piece band to boot. His is the kind of laid back, sometimes calm, sometimes electric but always comforting Americana that is always good to hear and fun to hum along to even if you don't know all the words. Ritter is a very gifted musician indeed. But is he the right kind of musician for the Millennium Forum?

Supported by the very similar, if lower-key, Stephen Kellogg from Massachusetts, Ritter often sways from side to side while strumming his guitar during the low tempo numbers, gently coaxing the disappointingly middling Forum audience into action. What I see here are elements of a musical storyteller who has been on a not-always-enjoyable journey through life, but does not wallow in self-pity, indicating that he will always "be there" for his audience. You can see and hear it in his melodies, expressions and enunciation, that of a warm, friendly, homey and realistic performer.

Right from the start, in "Best Is For The Best", the depth in Ritter's sound, the echo in his voice, comes through. Whether Ritter and his acoustic guitar are assisted by piano, lute or double bass, or even a combination of the three, the musical result, regardless of mood or tempo, is the same - rich and comforting, with relatable, if not always upbeat, lyrics. Frankly, this "young timey folk", particularly the remarkable "Bonfire", the ambient "Lights" and the catchy "Appleblossom Rag" wouldn't sound out of place at the next Fleadh; and there's even the odd "whoop" or series of steady claps from the audience to clarify it. If only he'd had a more intimate venue than the Forum, perhaps the Playhouse or even the Glassworks, to go with it. The acoustics of the arena aren't always the kindest to Ritter's voice when all the instruments wash around him.

Still, this puts off neither Ritter nor his fans. His high spirit stretches throughout the entire set, with his references to the weather, the pantomime and the structure of the Forum ("it's like being in a spaceship... we're the chosen ones from outer space") in between the tunes going down a treat with virtually everyone. And his performance of the title track from his album Hello Starling is a delight. If the concert doesn't always feel innovative and is not as intimate as it could have been, it is likable, and a nice pre-Christmas tonic for lovers of Americana everywhere.