Independent Records - 2003 - 43 mins

Á la David Gray, Josh Ritter has built up such a loyal following in Ireland you'd be forgiven for thinking he's one of our own. But he's not. And listening to 'Hello Starling' you can see, or rather hear, how it's almost impossible to see how he ever could be. Drenched in the American singer-songwriter tradition, Ritter is the latest in a long line of young bards with old ideas. Not that those ideas are redundant per se, but they definitely need a face-lift.

From the outset of 'Hello Starling' the way ahead is well sign-posted. This is, give or take two or three tracks, a complete folk-fest. At times you can almost smell the campfire, at others you find yourself waiting for the mouth organ to kick in. Which, by the way, it never does but that's neither here nor there.

JR has a poetic touch – without the negative connotations that 'poetic' can sometimes denote – and it's a poetry rich in vivid, desert imagery. But it's not all rustic wonder; there is defiance ('California'), muse musings ('Bone of Song'), and, of course, love. It's with the latter that Ritter shines brightest. 'Baby That's Not All' is a composition of aching splendour, and only a lacklustre arrangement punctures love paean 'Kathleen', lyrically one of the album's highlights.

Josh Ritter has talent, so much that he could easily go off and do 20 more albums like this – and each would sound solid and tight. But in a music world where lads with guitars are scavenging for a place at the top table, that's not always enough.

'Hello Starling' is a good effort, and fans of this stuff will love it. New recruits, though, might be a little harder to snare.

Tom Grealis

Tracklisting: Bright Smile – Kathleen – You Don't Make It Easy Babe – Man Burning – Rainslicker – Wings – California – Snow Is Gone – Bone Of Song – Baby That's Not All – The Bad Actress