Folk gui­tarist in fine tune

Ry­ley Walker’s deft hands and pas­toral rhythms cap­ti­vate at the Echo.


The folk gui­tarist Ry­ley Walker sat alone on a stool, legs crossed, a sound sys­tem well-bal­anced at the edge of feed­back and a spot­light di­rected on him, tun­ing his 12string acous­tic. And tun­ing it. And tun­ing it.

“It’s all part of the act,” he joked while tweak­ing tones across the dozen strings for a few min­utes, ring­ing each note un­til, with an an­gel-herald­ing strum, they hummed in sweet har­mony.

It was nec­es­sary that he hone the ma­chine. Through­out his set Tues­day night at the Echo, the Chicago artist, tour­ing in sup­port of his new al­bum, “Prim­rose Green,” pre­cisely ma­neu­vered his fin­gers to strike notes with an undis­torted clar­ity. To hit a mid-song bum note would have been like punc­tur­ing a tire while ac­cel­er­at­ing into a hard speed­way turn. Who knows what car­nage could have en­sued?

Luck­ily, no bones were bro­ken across an hour­long set that show­cased Walker’s deft hands and solo gui­tar il­lu­mi­na­tions. A few minds were blown, though, es­pe­cially dur­ing “Grif­fith’s Buck’s Blues,” a work that weaved an Irish-ac­cented melody through a stream of start-and-stop chords.

Across that and other pas­toral orig­i­nals and a choice take on Van Mor­ri­son’s “Fair Play,” Walker cre­ated mu­sic with rolling mo­men­tum, one that re­quired he ma­neu­ver through rhyth­mic pat­terns.

Fed through a pick-up, this gui­tar work was steeped in the 1960s folk gui­tar move­ment and the stylis­tic off­shoots that ar­rived af­ter. Cel­e­brat­ing both in­stru­men­tal prow­ess and pas­toral sim­plic­ity, Walker drew on the ideas of artists in­clud­ing John Fa­hey, Joni Mitchell, John Mar­tyn and in­her­i­tors such as Glenn Jones and James Blackshaw. De­spite the ob­vi­ous debts, though, he’s de­vel­oped his own ideas.

On the stu­dio ver­sions of “Prim­rose” songs, Walker recorded with a band of mirac­u­lously prac­ticed Chicago jazz play­ers. At the Echo, the hand­some, once shaggy-headed trou­ba­dour had a clean hair­cut that made him look down­right re­spectable, and his pre­sen­ta­tion was equally crisp. He re­quired only two acous­tic gui­tars and a mi­cro­phone. One was that 12-string, the other a six-string, and any doubt that Walker was re­ly­ing on the ex­tra strings to add heft was abun­dantly clear on his self-penned ti­tle track.

Lyri­cally, the song’s a mantra that evokes more than it ex­plains, hint­ing at some mys­te­ri­ous place just be­yond the hori­zon. Nei­ther it nor any of his lyrics read well on the page. It’s all in the de­liv­ery, one strongly inf lu­enced by the work of the late Los An­ge­les avant-folk singer Tim Buckley and his son, Jeff Buckley. Walker has an equally elas­tic, if less gym­nas­tic, voice, one that he moves through oc­taves, yowl­ing and bel­low­ing with emo­tion, car­ry­ing syl­la­bles across the bars like birds fly­ing across stone walls.

For Mor­ri­son’s “Fair Play,” the first track on the 1974 al­bum “Vee­don Fleece,” Walker turned a pi­ano-based jazz bal­lad into a six-stringed work­out that re­placed key­board per­cus­sive­ness with daz­zling fret­board runs. “Tell me of Poe, Os­car Wilde and Thoreau,” sang Walker. “Let your mid­night and your day­time turn into love of life.”

Be­fore Walker’s set (and af­ter an as­sured open­ing per­for­mance by singer­song­writer Matt Kivel), Los An­ge­les artist Pearl Charles un­veiled a new band with a strik­ing set of orig­i­nals. Draw­ing on clas­sic coun­try, Byrds-style elec­tri­fied folk rock and Brill Build­ing song craft, Charles ex­uded a mag­netic con­fi­dence while up­dat­ing vin­tage styles with con­tem­po­rary ur­gency. She fo­cused on songs from her up­com­ing EP, which will ar­rive via Burger Records in July

Far re­moved from the bu­colic land­scape later of­fered by Walker, Charles and her band rocked through cos­mopoli­tan sounds that of­fered a dif­fer­ent kind of es­cape.

Michael Robinson Chávez Los An­ge­les Times

FOLK MU­SI­CIAN Ry­ley Walker was a rev­e­la­tion on the gui­tar dur­ing his show at the Echo on Tues­day.

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