I was completely blown away the first time I heard The Animal Years. Ritter's literate singer-songwriting style is completely in my wheelhouse. There's nothing that drastically different that Ritter is doing but his command of lyrics and songcraft carry his work beyond most of what passes for male songwriters these days (Matt Kearney, Joshua Radin, and James Morrison being main examples). Ritter has a lyrical command and complexity much more advanced than these guys and his experimenting with different sonic textures, more than likely thanks to producer Brian Deck. 'Thin Blue Flame' is the apex of the album, a culmination of everything Ritter seemingly wanted to accomplish with the album (and Stephen King's #1 song of 2006 for what it's worth). There are other great songs on the album also, whether it be the propulsive 'Wolves', the lighthearted and silent film allegory 'Lillian, Egypt', or the moody minimalist 'One More Mouth'. With this album, Ritter really separated himself from the singer-songwriter pack as someone worth taking notice of. That his live shows are fantastic, showing a love of performing for an audience, don't hurt either. I saw Josh open for Gomez at the Haunt in Ithaca, and the majority of the crowd was there to see him and not Gomez. I think that goes to show that if you put your heart into your craft, people will come around. The Animal Years shows this perfectly and while Ritter may not have planned it that way, it certainly worked on me.