The freewheeling Josh Ritter to play Belly Up Aspen

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
Singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, pictured at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in 2010. Ritter plays Belly Up Aspen on Wednesday.
Aspen Times file |

If You Go …

Who: Josh Ritter & the Royal City Band

Where: Belly Up Aspen

When: Wednesday, July 13, 9 p.m.

How much: $35-$60

Tickets: Belly Up box office;

The singer-songwriter Josh Ritter is nominally touring in support of his most recent album, last year’s “Sermon on the Rocks.” But his set list when he headlines Belly Up Aspen tonight, as usual, will be a freewheeling selection of his eight albums spanning a nearly 20-year-long recording career.

“It’s just more fun that way,” Ritter said this week from a tour stop in Omaha, Nebraska. “I don’t believe in the whole ‘promoting my record’ situation.”

Recorded with his four-piece Royal City Band, who will join him on stage in Aspen, the textures and tenor of the new record are an adventurous, hard-rocking mix — a sharp departure from 2013’s low-key, introspective “A Beast in its Tracks,” which Ritter wrote in the wake of his divorce from musician Dawn Landes.

“Every record is a reaction to the last,” he said. “I never want a record to sound the same as the last one. … I wanted something that was cut wild. I was feeling wild. I really feel like a lot of the stuff on the record, I wanted it to blaze. I wanted it to come out with the feeling that I wrote them — these more unhinged songs, I wanted them to feel that way in the studio.”

That’s part of the reason why he made the record with Queens of the Stone Age producer Trina Shoemaker in New Orleans. He’d made brief tour stops in the Louisiana city but never spent significant time there. The rich jazz, funk and gospel traditions didn’t make their way onto the record, but maybe the spirit of “The City That Care Forgot” did.

“I wanted to be down there for weeks, in the bloodstream of the place,” Ritter said. “Not necessarily for any musical reason, but for the homemade freakiness of New Orleans. I wanted that to soak into the music.”

Ritter has drawn widespread acclaim as a lyricist and storyteller and was making his way onto “Greatest Living Songwriters” lists by the time he turned 30. An incisive and thoughtful lyricist, he can write narrative songs that are funny, sad, smart and, oftentimes, all three at once. Ritter said he doesn’t keep a regular writing schedule or routine but works whenever he can and does so on the road. The afternoon he spoke to The Aspen Times, for instance, Ritter was working on building a new song around a beat.

“I think of writing as an excretion of the body,” he said. “It comes out through the ink, but you can’t expect it to stay the same because you’re never really the same.”

In 2011, he published the novel “Bright’s Passage,” an acclaimed story of a World War I veteran coming home to West Virginia. Ritter said he has ideas for another, but that the rigors of touring and raising a child have limited his writing time.

“Uninterrupted time is in short supply,” he said. “And that’s something you need for writing a novel more than writing songs — writing a song can happen in an afternoon.”