Ryley Walker

Photo by Evan Jenkins

Earlier this year in my review of Walker’s Deafman Glance, I surmised that he could be a professor on music. Since then he’s provided a blow by blow of Leonard Cohen’s Songs of Love and Hate. And now he’s re-interpreting Busted Stuff by Dave Matthews Band. For those not in the know, Busted Stuff was the fork in the road in Matthews’ career. He had originally recorded the album with Steve Lillywhite, only to be rebuffed by the label and forced to record a more radio-friendly version with Glen Ballard. This album isn’t done in jest or to be ironic. Walker appreciates Matthews and just wanted to re-interpret an artist of his youth, at the crossroads of their career.

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Photo by Evan Jenkins

Ryley Walker reminds me of Chris Knight from 1985’s Real Genius, the movie that put Val Kilmer on the map. Walker is a walking encyclopedia of music. His knowledge is so deep and varied that he could just as easily be a professor. But that is balanced by his self-deprecating manner and a twitter feed so ludicrous; it can only be matched by Rob Delaney.

That genius is what drives Walker to recreate his sound from album to album, often looking back at his prior albums as sub-par. Deafman Glance is no different. Like all his albums, the sound is tethered to Walker’s guitar playing. But as you can see from the influences above, they’re all over the board. I was so happy with myself that I referenced Genesis before seeing that tweet; I was pretty close to stopping strangers on the street to tell them. Would have also dropped the fact that I love mayo as well.

Walker is constantly fighting being pigeon-holed in a genre and that’s admirable. But one thing is clear, he will not compromise his vision of how he envisions a song. For Deafman Glance, it was Chicago. Walker says, “And it’s more Chicago-y sounding. Chicago sounds like a train constantly coming towards you but never arriving. That’s the sound I hear, all the time, ringing in my ears.” There are some truly magical tunes on Deafman Glance, but Can’t Ask Why is simply off the hook. The closer, Spoil With The Rest, is another tune that just takes you a cosmic guitar trip.

I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting Walker. I almost don’t want to as I’ve built him up in my head as this mystical rock ‘n’ roll riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma (covered in cheese sauce of course).

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Photo by Evan J

It would appear that in between 7-11 Burritos and Tony’s frozen pizzas, Ryley Walker has found the time to record his fourth album. The album will see the light of day on 5/17 via the fine folks at Dead Oceans. Ryley gave us some insight on the album

“I think more than anything the thing to take away from this record is that I appreciate what improv and jamming and that outlook on music has done for me, but I wanted rigid structure for these songs. I don’t want to expand upon them live. There’s a looseness to some of the songs I guess, but I didn’t want to rely on just hanging out on one note.

I was under a lot of stress because I was trying to make an anti-folk record and I was having trouble doing it. I wanted to make something deep-fried and more me-sounding. I didn’t want to be jammy acoustic guy anymore. I just wanted to make something weird and far-out that came from the heart finally. I was always trying to make something like this I guess, trying to catch up with my imagination. And I think I succeeded in that way — it’s got some weird instrumentation on there, and some surreal far-out words. And it’s more Chicago-y sounding. Chicago sounds like a train constantly coming towards you but never arriving. That’s the sound I hear, all the time, ringing in my ears.”

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Ryler

Photo by Tom Sheehan

Ryley Walker has announced the follow-up to 2015’s excellent Primrose Green. It was one of my favorites of 2015 as it allowed me to connect to the music of my youth with a young artist. Every time I spin a Ryley album I get completely lost in the tapestry of it all. Based on the first track of the upcoming album, The Halfwit In Me, I don’t see this album letting me down in that regard. Here’s some more info on the backstory of Golden Sings That Have Been Sung.

In November 2015, at the end of a ten-month period which saw Ryley play over 200 shows in support of Primrose Green, Ryley decided that he should probably head home. However you wished to measure it, he was surely due some sort of holiday. Although, a holiday was the last thing on Ryley’s mind – and certainly not a holiday in his adopted hometown.

He went into the studio over the Christmas vacation to record Golden Sings That Have Been Sung whose songs were directly wedded to Ryley’s return to Chicago. Some of his formative musical memories had been shaped by the work of pioneering Chicago acts such as Gastr del Sol and Tortoise. “Jeff Parker was the guitarist with Tortoise, and I used to listen to him a lot,” recalls Ryley, who figured that, for the first time in his career, it might be helpful to enlist the services of a producer. With only one person on his shortlist, once again, all roads led back to Chicago.

Ryley had been a long-time admirer of sometime Wilco multi-instrumentalist LeRoy Bach. Back in 2009, still in his teens, he had frequented the improv nights hosted by Bach at a restaurant/gallery space called Whistler. “For me, it was an incredible opportunity,” recalls Ryley, “…because you would sometimes also have Dan Bitney, the drummer with Tortoise, and I’d get to play with these people. I mean, they were twice my age. I’m sure they thought I was annoying at first, maybe some of them still do, but I kind of looked at them like gurus – and to have these old school Chicago heads taking me in was just amazing.”

For Ryley then, the prospect of having Bach produce his album was something of a no-brainer. “It was everything I wanted it to be,” he enthuses. “I would go to LeRoy’s house every other day with a riff, and we would take it from there.” Perhaps more than any other song on the record, the somnambulant sun-dappled intimacies of opening track and lead single “The Halfwit In Me” most audibly bear the imprint of those Whistler sessions.

Golden Sings That Have Been Sung was made for the dewy magic hour when night and day have yet to meet and, as long as the song is playing, you feel might briefly leave the corporeal world with them. This is the music you might imagine the woodland animals making once the humans have left for the night. This is Ryley Walker’s coming of age.

Follow me on Twitter at @WoodyHearYa

Ryley Walker is here

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Ryley Walker – Primrose Green [album review]

March 30, 2015

The Grateful Dead are coming to Chicago to play their Farewell shows. I was a major Head back in the day. The Dead shaped my musical tastes and persona like no other musical act over the course of 70 some-odd shows like no other band before and no other band since. But truth be told, […]

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Ryley Walker announces Primrose Green – 3/31/15

January 7, 2015

One of the things I look forward to at the end of the year, is Aquarium Drunkard’s year in review. The team over there know music as well as anyone. I typically find one or two gems in there that I had missed in the prior year. This year that gem was Ryley Walker. The […]

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