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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Joshing around with Ritter

September 25, 2003|Steve Hochman | Special to The Times

Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter seems like one of those glass-half-full guys -- even if his glass is empty, he seems as if he wouldn't complain.

A toothy, boyish grin rarely left his face during his show at Largo on Tuesday, and his grateful, joyous demeanor proved an inviting contrast to his readily evident songwriting models -- acerbic Bob Dylan, ruminative Leonard Cohen and depressed Nick Drake -- belying the notion that compelling art only comes from sad and bitter artists.

When in "Snow Is Gone" the young Idaho native sang about coming through a hard winter, it was not about the arduous months but about the elation of greeting a new spring. In "Me & Jiggs" he reminisced about small-town life; it wasn't about dead ends but about friends and good times, "sitting on the porch singing Townes Van Zandt" and spray-painting a girl's name on the water tower, delivered with the giddy rush of early Bruce Springsteen.

There's real grace and poetic detail in Ritter's songwriting, and the music (acoustic guitar tones surrounded by deft colorations from a three-man band) accents his gift for melody and emotion. But it's his guileless joy and lack of artifice that set him apart.

If not the commanding talent and presence of Damien Rice (not to mention Springsteen, whose "State Trooper" was quoted at one point), Ritter offers both the artistic tools and the personable, slightly goofy charm to mark him as well worth keeping an eye on.

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