Huichica 2015 Artist Spotlight: Ryley Walker

Graham LeBron
04 24, 2015

Ryley Walker’s latest album, released March 31, 2015 on Dead Oceans, opens with the pastoral, almost droning title track, Primrose Garden.

At first listen, it reminds of me of John Cale’s 1973 album, Paris 1919. A rolling, pensive baroque pop tune that sounds to me like a modern version of the folk jazz pop of UK 60s and 70s groups like Pentangle, Incredible String Band, and Fairport Convention. 

The second track, Summer Dress, heads straight into jazzier territory. It has an intensity and expansive quality that reminds me of the Talk Talk album, Laughing Stock. As the record progresses, it begins to groove and I forget how long I’ve been listening to it, and that I haven’t been listening to it for years already. I am also reminded of UK singer/songwriter John Martyn's 70's work, like Solid Air, and in the softer, more vulnerable moments, echoes of the more adorned Nick Drake tracks from Bryter Layter or Van Morrison's Astral Weeks.

I’ve got to commend this guy, whether it is intentional or not, no one that I know of is currently making music that references such idiosyncratic genres. It is refreshingly original and utterly listenable.

The sparse and urgent arrangements of instrumental songs like "Griffiths Bucks Blues" work equally as well as the more fleshed out songs like "Love Can Be Cruel," which features an amazing breakdown at the end that would make Steve Reich proud. There are twists and turns and his songwriting gives way to long passages of what I’d venture to call improvisations. It is jazz -- brash and loud and encompassing at some points, barren and subdued at others. Whoever his band is, these folks can really play. This is no shambolic, indie throwback record. I’ve now listened to this album three times all the way through today. That rarely happens to me.

Since I decided to listen first and research later, I’m now surprised to learn that Ryley is from Illinois -- not Cornwall, or Basingstoke or some other such town in the British countryside.

Wow, OK. And, of course, he’s young, 25, and has been making music on stages and basements since his teens. He sings and writes with a virtuosity that other artists could spend a lifetime and still not achieve. Apparently he’s been lacquering his fingertips to get a more aggressive tone when fingerpicking his guitar. Now that is commitment to the craft. Now that I am listening with context, I begin to hear the American-ness of it. There are some John Fahey-like passages and even a slight J.J. Cale feel to "On the Banks of the Old Kishiwaukee."

This record is impressive regardless of when or where it was produced. As I am so fond of saying, it is a true modern classic. Britt Govea, ((Folk Yeah!)), has really outdone himself with the Huichica line up this year. As I spotlight more and more of the artists, it becomes clear it was very thoughtfully curated with the idyllic winery setting in mind as the venue. This is going to sound amazing outdoors. Get your tickets here, folks. Huichica 2015 is June 12-13.

Similar Articles