So Runs the World Away, the fifth studio album from bookish, Idaho-born troubadour Josh Ritter, unfolds like a Flannery O’Connor, Jim Jarmusch, and Mark Twain road trip. Equally steeped in Southern and Midwest Gothic Americana, the son of a pair of neuroscientists has crafted his most unique collection of songs to date, borrowing characters from mythology, literature, and world history and letting them run wild in the increasingly adventurous, neo-traditional folk style that his become his forte over the last decade. The elegiac, slow-burn opener “Change of Time” sets the stage, lamenting “battered hulls and broken hardships/leviathan and lonely” before visiting a 1000-year-old Egyptian pharaoh on the deck of a steamship on his way to New York in “Curses.” The voyage continues by train on “Southern Pacifica,” descends into bluesy, Tom Waits-ian solipsism on “Rattling Locks,” and culminates in So Runs the World Away’s brilliant mid-album centerpiece, "Folk Bloodbath," which pits some of the murder ballad’s biggest names (Louis Collins, Delia, and Stagger Lee) against each other with predictable results. Standout cuts in the second half include the verdant, bouncy “Lark,” the stoic, John Jacob Niles-inspired “See How Man Was Made,” and the spirited, quasi-spiritual/science rocker “Orbital,” resulting in a typically fine batch of new folk standards and a high-water mark for an artist already used to paddling around on oceans too deep and vast for modern cartography.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger