Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band

Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band

The Beast In Its Tracks, the new album from renowned singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, was released on March 5 on Pytheas Recordings. Of the record, Ritter says, “In the year after my marriage ended, I realized that I had more new songs than I’d ever had at one time. Far from the grand, sweeping feel of the songs on So Runs the World Away, these new songs felt like rocks in the shoe, hard little nuggets of whatever they were, be it spite, remorse, or happiness.”

Recorded during 2011-2012 at the Great North Sound Society in Parsonsfield, Maine, The Beast In Its Tracks continues Ritter’s longtime collaboration with producer and keyboard player Sam Kassirer. As Josh describes, “I hadn’t composed this stuff, I’d scrawled it down, just trying to keep ahead of the heartbreak. They needed to be recorded like that. We needed to work fast, make decisions quickly, keep the songs as spare as they could be kept, and above all never allow ourselves to blunt the sharp edges. Some of the songs were mean or evil. So be it.”

The new album follows Ritter’s 2010 release, So Runs The World Away, of which Bob Boilen from NPR Music declared, “I’ve come to expect good records from him...but this one took my breath away,” while the Boston Globe praised, “quite sensational…marks the finest music he has made.”

In 2011, Ritter made his debut as a published author with his New York Times Best-selling novel, Bright’s Passage (Dial Press/Random House). Of the work, Stephen King writes in The New York Times Book Review, “Shines with a compressed lyricism that recalls Ray Bradbury in his prime . . . This is the work of a gifted novelist.”

The Milk Carton Kids

Twice Grammy-nominated harmony duo The Milk Carton Kids released their third album, Monterey on May 19, 2015 to rave reviews, garnering their second Grammy nomination, this time for “Best American Roots Performance” for their song, “The City of Our Lady.” A refreshing alternative to the foot-stomping grandeur of the so-called “folk revival,” an understated virtuosity defines The Milk Carton Kids.

Following their 2014 Grammy nomination for Best Folk Album for their previous release, “The Ash & Clay,” The Milk Carton Kids won Duo/Group of the Year at the Americana Music Awards in 2014. Their featured performances and interviews in T Bone Burnett & the Coen Brothers' concert documentary, "Another Day/Another Time,” brought the band its widest audience and their 55-city North American tour last year sold out months in advance. Cultural purveyors from Garrison Keillor to T Bone Burnett to Billy Bragg have hailed the duo’s importance among a group of new folk bands, both expanding and contradicting the rich tradition that precedes them.

Yet while some of the band’s many accolades reference a specific genre, the duo quickly transcends those tags with clear inflections of jazz, classical, even the dark lyricism of modern “alternative." This past year, The Milk Carton Kids were asked to pay tribute to Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris — Cash on the Joe Henry-produced remake of “Bitter Tears,” and Harris with their standing ovation performance at the tribute concert “The Life & Songs of Emmylou Harris,” among luminaries including Kris Kristofferson, Mavis Staples, Alison Kraus, Iron & Wine, and Harris herself. If Cash and Harris taught us that American music is meant to be taken at its expansive word, without confines or borders, The Milk Carton Kids appear to have taken the lesson to heart.

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