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For Josh Ritter, performing completes a song's story

Although Josh Ritter’s new album for Thirty Tigers, “Spectral Lines,” dives into themes of love and connection, and the collection is dedicated to the memory of his mother, listeners can expect a light hand. The singer, songwriter and author is giving audience members who hear him perform the songs during Tuesday’s Jefferson Theater show plenty of room to experience emotions in their own ways.

Ritter said he looks forward to Tuesday’s show. Being back in front of audiences means more to him since the pandemic shuttered music venues and temporarily silenced a vital part of the music creation process — the connections between performer and perceiver that help complete the experience.

“Making albums and recording songs is like creating animals in a laboratory,” Ritter said. “Until you perform it in front of people, you do not know what you have.”

Performing “is a joy,” he said. “Performing is a true reward. It’s a joy. You get to see all these little songs running around. “It’s a reward that I’ll never take for granted again.”

Respect is an important element in the conversation between performer and listener, so Ritter is sure to leave room for listeners to explore their own reactions and sentiments. He said he reflects on the delivery choices his own favorite jazz torch singers make.

“My job is to say things plainly, and then get out of the way,” Ritter said. The singers he admires “do it so simply that you can feel all the feelings for yourself. It’s not about the magician; it’s about the trick.”

Ritter’s own emotions often can be spotted around the edges of a song — in a word choice, an inflection, even the briefest of pauses. “I don’t ever feel like I have to go in trying to describe a certain thing,” he said. “I let them out on the periphery.”

Ritter’s trusted collaborator Sam Kassirer produced the new album.

The smooth transitions and seamless soundscape on “Spectral Lines” are there by design. The 10 tracks are united by segments and fragments of what Ritter calls “field recordings” — moments of sounds occurring all around him that he couldn’t resist capturing on his phone but hadn’t found homes for in the past.

“I used a bunch of cut-up field recordings that I’d made,” Ritter said. “The idea was to make the album seamless. I wanted it to be really immersive.”

Finding the right combination of 10 songs for “Spectral Lines” meant that some promising candidates didn’t make the cut. Ritter sees no need to shoehorn in songs that don’t quite fit; if there aren’t natural spaces for certain songs, perhaps “it’s not their time,” he said.

“I love songs, but I don’t have an attachment to them,” Ritter said. “I think there’s a step that’s often unacknowledged, and that’s the quarrying of the stone.

“You go into the studio with twenty or thirty songs, and that’s when you start carving off stone. You finally get a vision deep in the process. There are songs that just want to be next to each other. The album starts taking shape around these things.”

Some writers burn midnight oil in service to the muse; others must be early risers. With two young children at home, “it’s sometimes hard to marshal all the resources” for uninterrupted writing time, Ritter said.

“Now that the kids are back in school, it’s easier,” he said, adding that he gets a lot of writing done during his “golden hours” of 5 to 7 a.m., before the day hits full speed.

Tuesday’s show at the Jefferson begins at 8 p.m. Learn more at


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