Thursday, February 14th, 2019

Josh Ritter – Old Black Magic

(Looks at score) More like beige magic, I guess?


Alex Clifton: I’m not sure why Josh Ritter’s never worked with Jason Isbell & the 500 Unit before “Old Black Magic,” since their sounds are a natural fit. Isbell’s production gives Ritter’s song the extra swagger it needs while still allowing his lyrics to shine through. I heard this song nearly two years ago as an acoustic doodle, and I think if Ritter had tackled this one by himself it wouldn’t have nearly as much oomph as it does. Ritter’s music is usually delivered with  a massive smile, but I do love the few songs he has that are delivered with more of a sneer: they make for a welcome change of pace and always feel more significant because they’re rare. I am a professed sucker for stompy Americana rock that makes me feel like a badass, and this song makes me feel like I have some kind of wild, dark magic of my own. My favourite songs are the ones that spark an invincible feeling in my chest that’s difficult to come down from; this is one of them.

Julian Axelrod: You just know this guy has strong opinions on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Alfred Soto: The gravy-covered beef of the guitars and Josh Ritter’s commitment to a worn conceit are the only bits of prestidigitation I hear.

Thomas Inskeep: Boy, AAA radio is gonna love this. More Ryan Adams than Jason Isbell, but those two signposts should tell you everything you might need to know.

Juana Giaimo: I really enjoy “Old Black Magic”‘s verses — the slightly hoarse vocals, the even hoarser guitar and the steady beat — but I just wish something else happened.

Iris Xie: I kind of feel like I’m strapped into an endless wagon ride where I can’t really escape, or we’re in Westworld season 3 and I’m one of the ‘people’ converted to become an endless soldier in that inevitable AI vs human war that will probably happen if the writers get their shit together enough. That call of “Old Black Magic” and then “rolling…rolling…” and that weird repetitive guitar hook with the almost military beat in the back… it’s just incredibly unpleasant and I feel terrified. Music is supposed to make you feel something, but the combination of these decisions, I feel assimilated into some twisted version of Americana, like if 1989 decided to take on a Western bent instead. This is the perfect song for a post-apocalyptic wasteland America, but um, I wish it were a lot better.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: That guitar just keeps on chugging, huh? It’s a good embodiment of how I feel about the song: plodding, repetitive, unimaginative. The lyrics follow suit, becoming increasingly annoying as the song progresses; Ritter seems hellbent on utilizing the most trite images possible to create an air of something dark and austere. The organ stabs and guitar solo would be fine embellishments if they weren’t tied to this goal. Ultimately, “Old Black Magic” just isn’t sinister enough. 

Jonathan Bradley: “Old Black Magic” is a slow burning Americana hip grind with vocals sourced from Bruce Springsteen circa The River. Josh Ritter does get that combination right, which makes up for how mild his sorcery sounds — I honestly don’t hear much toil and trouble here, for all the stewing declamation. Songs like these should close with a hot blues solo; this does.

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3 Responses to “Josh Ritter – Old Black Magic”

  1. Thank you all for indulging me on this one

  2. some unfortunate timing there on thomas’s blurb

  3. Yep — written prior to yesterday’s news.

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