On a path worth following
RYLEY WALKER Golden Sings That Have Been Sung ★★★ Dead Oceans
“I don’t like the word confessional. It’s kinda lame, like what are you confessing? You’re confessing half-truths, and if you embarrass yourself that’s the full-on truth. It’s kind of what I’m going for.” So says much touted Chicago guitar whiz Ryley Walker in a frank interview in Uncut magazine to launch his new album,
Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, his third studio album in as many years. And whatever about the underwhelming “full-on truth”, the music represents a new phase for the 27-year-old which, while not fully convincing, certainly lays out a promising path.
Walker is a leading figure in the revivalist or retro genre which rummages through the 1960s and 1970s to find signature sounds that inspire. He also has links to the American Primitive move- ment, that of the jangling acoustic guitars forever chiming in open tunings. Last year he released Primrose Green. This was a flawed but spirited homage to 1970s era British folk-jazz, in particular the distinctive playing and singing styles of two sadly departed figures, John Martyn and Pentangle’s Bert Jansch.
Golden Sings… carries faint echoes of those two major influences, but whereas Primrose Green frequently seemed cluttered and set in a time warp, the new album has a more structured and yet adventurous feel to it and is also recognisably American.
This new discipline is probably down to producer Leroy Bach, formerly a key member of Wilco – “it was nice having him there to guide things“– and to the fact that the music at its best has a cool, jazzy resonance. “The whole Chicago sound sits somewhere weird between rock ’n’ roll and jazz,” says Walker.
The opening track, The Halfwit In Me, illustrates this with an airy inventive take on self-deprecation, but I also fell for the more stately Funny Thing She Said and the drifting guitar notes of The Great And Undecided.
The sound is good, as is the playing, but the songs and the singing could be sharper, a little less lumbering and self-regarding. Ryley Walker remains a work in progress – one worth following. ryleywalker.com