What’s Wrong with the World

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Josh Ritter at Variety PLayhouse


Last night Josh Ritter and his excellent band came out at Variety Playhouse in east Atlanta and played a hell of a show. My brother and I had a great time.

As a performer, Ritter possesses contagious warmth; from the moment he brought his beaming smile on stage and gave us a few chords, he had us. Stand-up bass and slide guitar, somebody’s kids off stage, plus several songs in barbershop quartet style — one mic and everyone surrounding — overall the concert surpassed in quality and variety. Very well done, Josh.

(All I missed was “Monster Ballads.” But in the end you can’t have everything)

Lyrically, Ritter is about as good as anyone not named Dylan or Cohen or Cash. His latest album, Gathering, with its fine Southern feel, includes a classic in the GFY tradition: “Cry Softly,” a rockabilly number “Oh Lord, Pt. 3” and the magnificent braggadocio tune “Showboat.” He played all three in Atlanta, to vigorous effect.

Highlighting the show, “Homecoming” and “Getting Ready to Get Down,” rocked the place. The latter song features a charming blend of infidelity and joy: seems like what we might call a brilliant PG-13 tune.

Showing proper disdain for the character of our national politics, Ritter declined to make any statement along those lines, though he introduced one song this way, “This is a song about a — [long pause] This is a song.” Hearty laughter. But what suffuses Ritter’s great musical art is a great love of our great country, despite her greatly embarrassing aspects.

It’s become hard to really make money from quality of recorded musical arrangement. Digital businesses have destroyed the ability to ask a small fee on every song purchased and listened to. Creative destruction, I guess. But I’d say it’s worth buying a ticket and seeing your favorite bands live, since it’s from that purchase whence their income arises.

Josh Ritter is one of my favs. The dude puts on a show. My 40 bucks were more than well spent. If he’s coming to your town, I can pretty well guarantee that he and his band will play you a memorable concert. Your money will be well spent.

Comments (3)

It’s become hard to really make money from quality of recorded musical arrangement. Digital businesses have destroyed the ability to ask a small fee on every song purchased and listened to.

It is my suspicion that the mass-produced recording was well on its way to destroying the true artistic soul of music: at the behest of moguls who cared much more for the bottom line than the scale, the industry created fame and fortune out of mediocre talent, committee writing, and marketing - before digital even came of age. In 1980, if you could not convince a vinyl producer to put your music on vinyl, you could not break into radio either, and you would never be heard beyond your neighborhood bar. Seemingly, few musicians made any decent money at it, unless they made gobs of money at it: all or nothing, the big time or the rag time. Digital certainly added new stresses to the system, making it even harder for pure talent to rise to attention.

Yet I am hopeful that the internet may also solve some of the problems, as well. The music city moguls are no longer in control of dissemination of content: you can get all sorts of content without their approval, these days. Oddly enough, some people now will pay for it, who 10 years ago would have taken it for free. Patreon, and like sites, promote the option of paying artists directly for producing good works, allowing the little guy to become a patron of the arts. In addition, there are plenty of artists putting music out there just because they like to sing good music, and to heck with worrying about being paid for it. Not everyone is in it for the money.

As for paying to go to a concert: not everyone who writes and sings good music can put on a concert. Additional skills are needed beyond those of singing the song well; you have to have stage presence, a certain amount of boldness, and be able to convince someone to put a stage / venue at your disposal, and someone to manage the sound system, lights, etc. I love it when it all comes together like that, but I also love listening to someone who just put a tune on her website for the fun of it.

If we could re-tune the system so that people came to pay individual musicians with support directly, rather than by fractions of a percentage of albums marketed generate sales in the 10s of millions, (with the record house middle-man reaping 50 times as much as the musician), might we see the rise of more musicians, and more sheer talent - and talent more responsive to real popular pleasure? It seems to me that if the record houses failed overnight, and the millions that support them instead went to musicians, then it might in the long run be more possible for a musician to make a decent living at it without the necessity of being pop-star famous. Instead of 50 famous musicians who are filthy rich and 100,000 men and women poor as church mice (40,000 of whom should have rolled up and gone home, but who can't tell that because they are making almost as much as the other 60,000 who aren't making anything either), might we have 500 quasi famous musicians who are quite well off, and 60,000 musicians who can actually support a family on their share of the pie? Or maybe that's just a pie-in-the-sky dream.

May I just remind those on the site interested in this type of music that the above-mentioned Mr Dylan is about to release, in early November, a collection of his Gospel music from the late seventies and early eighties which will include much superb live material and some previously unreleased songs, including one called 'Making a Liar Out of Me' which, in lyrical terms, seems written for our times? It's called 'Trouble No More'.

In reference to the above-mentioned Dylan album today was the first time I heard his gospel version of "Blowin' in the Wind" and it was stunning.

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