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Liverpool, Carling Academy 28 March 2008

When listening to Josh Ritter, it's not hard to imagine him displaced fifty years in time. He would have thrived as a folk hero, a counter-culture icon, a misunderstood poet; except for the fact he is quite clearly enjoying himself far too much.

The line he threatens to walk is not that of his predecessors, between early death and immortality, but rather between infectiously catchy tunes and a lyrical depth that belies his years. What's more is that he is, if not a natural showman, a man of the people, able to subconsciously connect with whatever audience he's playing in front of.

In the tight, intimate atmosphere of the Carling Academy, Ritter had a blast. His longer, more thoughtful pieces, such as Bone of Song and Thin Blue Flame, were consciously dropped to make way for barnstormers like Me and Jiggs and Kathleen. He loved the irony of playing pop-Americana in front of 500 Scousers, revelled in the hecklers, and hit the roof with his vast array of poetic crowd-pleasers, a smile never leaving his face.

By the time the show climaxed with Harrisburg, even the newcomers had found rapport with him. There was even time for slower, more self-indulgent pieces such as The Temptation of Adam, arguably his best piece of poetry and the closest he comes to being as much of a curmudgeon as the Bob Dylans, Leonard Cohens, and Townes Van Zandts he's frequently compared to.

Go see him, if you can. It might not be long before you look like a bandwagoner.

Review by Laurence Thompson

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