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Josh Ritter, explained in 5 songs

Josh Ritter is the kind of songwriter who can make a small moment, say as a car ride home, seem epic.

And he can make an epic story — you know, the kind where, after thousands of years, you are awoken by a beautiful woman, who brings you from a tomb to a museum, tours the nation with you, and slowly turns into a mummy herself, all while you become more more vibrant and alive — seem intimate.

Some of his songs are fun to dance to, some are full of biblical references, and some are both.

The singer-songwriter will perform with The Royal City Band  at 8 p.m. on Thursday, July 21, at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center in York. Here are five songs to help you get to know him. (And a hat tip to the website Genius, which I used as a reference for the lyrics.)

1. “Harrisburg”

Album it appears on: "Golden Age of Radio" (2001)

Best lines: “It's a long way to heaven, it's closer to Harrisburg / And that's still a long way from the place where we are / And if evil exists, it's a pair of train tracks / And the devil is a railroad car."

Why it's awesome: I'm pretty sure Ritter isn't talking about the Pennsylvania capital. But how do you hear the part about being closer to Harrisburg than heaven and not think of York?

2. “Kathleen”

Album it appears on: “Hello Starling” (2003)

Best lines: "All the other girls here are stars, you are the Northern Lights / They try to shine in through your curtain, you’re too close and too bright."

Why it's awesome: The song starts with grand metaphors — literally in space — and then comes back down to a young man working up the nerve to ask a young woman to let him be the one to drive her home from a party.

3. “The Curse”

Album it appears on: "So Runs the World Away" (2010)

Best lines: "Such reanimation, the two tour the nation / He gets out of limos, he meets other women / He speaks of her fondly, their nights in the museum / But she's just one more rag now he's dragging behind him."

Why it's awesome: This is the mummy one I mentioned in the beginning. The narrative skill he shows in this song is why it's not surprising that he wrote a novel, "Bright's Passage," published in 2011. Plus, there is a music video of this song with puppets!

4. "Hopeful"

Album it appears on: "The Beast In Its Tracks" (2013)

Best lines: "How many times is the truth that you take to be true / Just truth falling apart at the same speed as you?"

Why it's awesome: Ritter made this album after his first marriage fell apart, and this song pretty much captures the optimistic spirit he brings to so much of his music. It starts out mocking the idea of being hopeful, but then comes around to supporting it by the end.

5. "Getting Ready to Get Down"

Album it appears on: "Sermon on the Rocks" (2015)

Best lines: "Mama got a look at you and got a little worried / Papa got a look at you and got a little worried / The pastor got a look and said, 'Y'all had better hurry; / Send her off to a little Bible college in Missouri.'"

Why it's awesome: Are you dancing yet? If not, there is a YouTube video of a guy in a cargo shorts and a yellow sleeveless shirt demonstrating linedancing steps to the song. I recommend you watch it.

If you go

Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band will perform at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 21. Tickets cost $31. For more info, visit

Ritter and the band are also on the lineup for the XPoNential Music Festival, with a performance scheduled for Saturday, July 23. For more info, visit