The greatest compliment you can pay Josh Ritter’s new album almost sounds like a slight. It is hard to listen to — so honest, so raw that his pain nearly becomes your own.
“The Beast in Its Tracks” was born out of the heartache Ritter endured after the dissolution of his marriage to fellow singer-songwriter Dawn Landes. He details its demise and its aftermath through 13 songs that confront the many shades of love, from splendor to ugliness.
Ritter has moved on, but his juxtaposition of his failed marriage with his newfound happiness with someone else is unflinching. “A Certain Light” begins on a note of affirmation: “My new lover sweet and kind / The kind of lover that one rarely finds / And I’m happy for the first time in a long time.” But then the refrain picks at a scab: “And she only looks like you / In a certain kind of light / When she holds her head just right.”
Produced by Arlington-based Sam Kassirer, who’s also a member of Ritter’s band, “The Beast in Its Tracks” is among the sparest of Ritter’s records, largely built around his acoustic guitar and voice. You even hear the hollow space of the room on the opening “Third Arm.”
As personal as it feels, “The Beast in Its Tracks,” like the great breakup records before it (Beck’s “Sea Change” comes to mind), is universal in its scope. We’ve all been this heartsick before, but most of us have survived. And we’re better off for it. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “A Certain Light”
Josh Ritter performs at the House of Blues on May 17.