On a path worth fol­low­ing

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC REVIEWS - JOE BREEN

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

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