Some songs tell stories just as vivid and intricate as any film or TV show. The Storyteller Series highlights those special pieces of music with lyrics that captivate the audience from beginning to end.


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Seeing Josh Ritter perform a few months ago at the Music Box was one of the most joyous musical experiences I have ever had.  Ritter didn’t take off his charming ear-to-ear smile for the entire performance, playing his acoustic guitar with such gusto if someone had told me that this was the only show he had ever and would ever play I would have believed it.  The man is clearly a master wordsmith, but one song in particular stood out to me that night: “Another New World.”

Photo credit: Chris Gordon / Getty Images

Off Ritter’s most recent album, So Runs The World Away, “Another New World” was one of the few melancholy tunes he did that evening (overall I prefer his more upbeat stuff) and it captivated me the way live performers rarely do – and for over seven minutes.  In it an explorer (sort of an alternate-universe Christopher Columbus) sets sail on his beloved ship, the “Annabel Lee” to find a new world.  The journey, however, ends in disaster as the ship runs into icy waters and although it’s not specified, it seems that the crew has all died.  He has no other choice but to chop up the ship, piece by piece, to keep himself warm.

The first super cool thing that jumped out to me was of course, the ship’s name: “Annabel Lee.”  Now I don’t have official confirmation on whether or not the reference to the Edgar Allan Poe character was intentional, but she was strongly tied to the sea and froze to death.  The strongest indicator of the connection though, I found in an article by The Music Court, who pointed out that the trochaic rhythm in Ritter’s guitar-picking emulates that of Poe’s poem.

Regardless of its English pedigree, I was swept away on the song’s journey, carried along as it ebbed and flowed. It was like a chilling wind passed through the theatre.  Ritter was delicate on the strings, becoming a different person than the lively chap bouncing around at the beginning of the night.  He quietly led the whole audience into an incredibly dark and melancholy place and we were more than willing to follow.

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Lyrics

The leading light of the age all wondered amongst
themselves what I would do next
After all that I’d found in my travels around
the world was there anything else left?
“Gentlemen”, I said, “I’ve studied the maps”
“And if what I’m thinking is right”
“There’s another new world at the top of the world”
“For whoever can break through the ice”

I looked round the room in that way I once had
and I saw that they wanted belief
So I said “All I’ve got are my guts and my God”
then I paused,”and the Annabelle Lee”
Oh the Annabelle Lee, I saw their eyes shine
the most beautiful ship in the sea
My Nina, My Pinta, My Santa Maria
My beautiful Annabelle Lee

That spring we set sail as the crows waved from shore
and on board the crew waved their hats
But I never had family just the Annabelle Lee
so I didn’t have cause to look back
I just set the course north and I studied the charts
and toward dark I drifted toward sleep
and I dreamed of the fine deep harbor I’d find
past the ice for my Annabelle Lee

After that it got colder the world got quiet
it was never quite day or quite night
And the sea turned the color of sky turned the color
of sea turned the color of ice
‘Til at last all around us was fastness
one vast glassy desert of arsenic white
And the waves that once lifted us
sifted instead into drifts against Annabelle’s sides

The crew gathered closer at first for the comfort
but each morning would bring a new set
of the tracks in the snow leading over the edge
of the world ’til I was the only one left
After that it gets cloudy but it feels like I lay there
for days maybe for months
But Annabelle held me the two of us happy
just to think back on all we had done

We talked of the other worlds we’d discover
as she gave up her body to me
And as I chopped up her mainsail for timber
I told her of all that we still had to see
As the frost turned her moorings to nine-tail
and the wind lashed her sides in the cold
I burned her to keep me alive every night
in the lover’s embrace of her hold

I won’t call it rescue what brought me here back to
the old world to drink and decline
And to pretend that the search for another new world
was well-worth the burning of mine
But sometimes at night in my dreams comes the singing
of some known tropical bird
And I smile in my sleep thinking Annabelle Lee
has finally made it to another new world