There are lots of small moments in Golden Age of Radio that could be used to build a case for Josh Ritter's talent, but one subtle thing about the song "Harrisburg" speaks volumes.
As Ritter's story of a railroad car and a man named Romero builds, the tempo of the song gradually increases. The art of letting a song's tempo ebb and flow has been largely neglected during an era when drummers are judged by their abilities to record with click tracks and songs are so precisely structured that they could be graphed in Excel.
Ritter knows that good stories need to breathe, and one of the many ways he brings his songs to life is by letting them breathe.
Ritter has gotten better since this album came out, but this album is still better than what most musicians will ever record. Golden Age of Radio sounds as if Ritter had one foot confidently planted in his own style, while the other stood tentatively in the pool of his influences. ("You've Got the Moon" could end a mix CD that opens with "Pink Moon;" it's a pretty great compliment even if it does point out a lack of originality.) Unlike his more recent albums, Golden Age of Radio is pretty good with moments of greatness, rather than great with moments of pretty goodness.
As an aside, the tray card of the EPFL's version of Golden Age of Radio mentions a bonus disc. Unfortunately, there is no bonus disc to be found. Hey, EPFL... what's the deal?
It's a typical indie release: artsy snapshots, uninteresting fonts, and generic design. Fortunately, the designer(s) had the sense to layout the lyrics in simple columns with lots of white space. There's nothing terribly wrong with the package, but there's nothing special about it, either.
Listen if you like: Nick Drake, Ryan Adams, simple words that pack a punch.
If it were food, it'd be: a promising meal at a new restaurant where things aren't quite perfect yet.