ALBUMS OF THE MONTH
In the Dusk of Everything, by Matthew Ryan
There are many artists who are ambitious. Some pursue the thrill of live performances, others strive for financial success. While I can’t say that Matthew Ryan doesn’t harbor some of those motivations, he possesses a more powerful quality – ambition for his music.
The album opening instrumental “Lonely Not Homesick” illustrates this point. It is a magnificent orchestral piece that is both brooding and inspiring.
Yet it is the intoxicating power of Ryan’s songwriting set against simple acoustic arrangements that sets Ryan apart from his peers. In the Dusk of Everything is an emotional exploration of failed relationships. What sets Ryan apart is his ability to tackle the topic with candor and grace, tending to view them with disappointment rather than regret.
Ryan’s whispered vocals, set against a persistent acoustic guitar, give “And So It Goes” a pensive feel. The song finds him speaking to an ex-lover who has returned in an attempt to rekindle the flame. Open wounds have clearly scarred as Ryan declares:
I hold no grudge no more though I did for a couple of years
The hate you harbor only welcomes what you fear
I wrote this song while the sun fell behind the hill
The stars look cold but there’s a warm light on the sill
“It Always Rains When You Miss Her” finds Ryan reflecting on a relationship lost. “What was soft is now as sharp as nails,” he sings, ”some storms are born within our own sails.” Some regret, yes, but moreso a recognition that things have irreversibly changed, “she’ll say your name again but it will never sound the same, some things we lose are lost but never go away.”
Ryan is the victim on “And Its Such a Drag,” lamenting a lover who left the relationship behind when she found some type of professional success. The graceful interplay of acoustic guitar, electric guitar and piano create a delicate background as Ryan sings:
Ah my valentine you’re poisoned now, seems the heart I knew is gone, a plow
And you can walk away like it’s such a drag that i should have something to say
After all that we knew and had, it don’t even make you sad
“Amy, I’m Letting Go” touches on the moment of decision in a relationship. “There’s freedom up ahead but it’s a hard curve,” signs Ryan, “there’s a reverb in our hearts that speaks louder than our words.”
“Let’s Wave Goodbye” is a fitting conclusion to this masterful release. With music that echoes a standard from bygone era, Ryan puts the past behind:
Let’s wave goodbye to who we were we’ll never be that again
and it’s not without sadness and it’s not without tears
and it’s not without thinking about all the years that we were that but not anymore
It is a definitive close that raises questions on where this talented artist will take us next. Time will tell but in the meantime we can continue to savor In the Dusk of Everything.
Audio Download: Matthew Ryan, “And It’s Such a Drag”
Danko / Manuel, Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit (from the Lightning Rod Records release Live From Alabama)
Count me among those here at Twangville who are impressed with Isbell’s new live release. Recorded this past August in Birmingham Alabama, it perfectly captures the depth and nuance of Isbell’s songwriting.
“Danko / Manuel,” Isbell’s potent reflection on the musician’s life, is taken to new heights by the 400 Unit and the horn section that joined him and the 400 Unit in Birmingham. In the year that we lost Levon Helm, it is also a fitting reminder of the talent that Helm, Danko and Manuel possessed.
Audio Download: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, “Danko / Manuel”
She Has Her Moments, Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil (from the Southern Discipline Recording Co. release Catch the Presidents)
Remember what I said last week about the Alabama music renaissance? Here’s further proof. Muscle Shoals’ Doc Dailey, who delivered one of my favorite albums from 2010, is back with another gem. From Dailey’s vocals to his character-driven songwriting to Magnolia Devil’s musical performance, Catch the Presidents overflows with southern authenticity. While much of this release has a relaxed feel, I’m drawn to this song in all its ragged rock glory.
Audio Download: Doc Dailey & Magnolia Devil, “She Has Her Moments”
Everybody Lies, Kevin Bowe and the Okemah Prophets (from the Okemah Prophets Records release Natchez Trace)
After hearing his music, I suppose that few would not find similarities between Bowe and Paul Westerberg. They share a musical style centered on immensely catchy hooks and sharply written lyrics. Heck, Westerberg even co-wrote this track. Oh, and Nels Cline plays lead guitar.
Even without that indie rock calling card this would still be a damn fine release. Bowe serves up rock and roll with a healthy dose of attitude and swagger. Color me impressed.
Audio Download: Kevin Bowe and the Okemah Prophets, “Everybody Lies”
My Road Now, Paul Westerberg
Rock fans rejoice, new Westerberg! In typical Westerberg fashion, this song just suddenly appeared – no context, no explanation. With just a single listen one is immediately reminded of Westerberg’s talent. Hopefully this is a sign that more new music is on the way.
This is my road now, and you can stick it honey, no sense in sticking if you’re heart can’t quicken any better than that.
Audio Download: Paul Westerberg, “My Road Now”
Mismatched Eyes (Boat Song), Whitehorse (from the Six Shooter Records release The Fate of the World Depends on This Kiss)
Whitehorse is the husband and wife team of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland. The duo take immaculately crafted pop songs, sweetened with harmonies, and tweak them enough to give the songs an edge.
I love the romanticism of this song with its winsome melody and weathered lyrics: “Is it the list and the sway, is it the roll and the pitch, the drunken girl from Mexico or the seven year itch.”
Audio Download: Whitehorse, “Mismatched Eyes (Boat Song)”
Walking in the Green Corn, Grant-Lee Phillips (from the Magnetic Field Recordings release Walking in the Green Corn)
Phillips has always been a thoughtful songwriter. His latest release continues the trend as he takes the listener on a lyrical exploration of his Native American and European heritage.
Guest Sara Watkins adds her voice and fiddle to this stand-out as Phillips sings, “Blow away black tornado, blow away troubled sky, blow away disappointment, all the worried days gone by. Ready for the crops to ripen, leaving all the rest behind, out come that sun, looking forward to better times.”
Audio Stream: Grant-Lee Phillips, “Walking in the Green Corn”
The Quiet Life, Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson (from the Sugar Hill Records release Wreck and Ruin)
Chambers and Nicholson provide further evidence that the simplest songs can be among the most striking songs. The duo’s sweet harmonies set against an ambling melody really hit the mark. “Now and then I’m loving the world again, and I’ll be fine living in the quiet life.”
Audio Stream: Kasey Chambers & Shane Nicholson, “The Quiet Life”
How Can You Love Me, Anthony Da Costa (from the self-released Secret Handshake)
Sure, I was expecting something a bit more acoustic and folk-based, but that doesn’t mean that I was disappointed with Da Costa’s most recent release. It tends toward the power pop end of the spectrum, but one can hear folk and Americana threads simmering below the surface. Bonus points for the banjo that propels this song.
Audio Download: Anthony Da Costa, “How Can You Love Me”
Preachers, My Jerusalem (from The End Records release Preachers)
There’s a theatrical quality to My Jerusalem’s music, a bombastic sound that can’t mask the sweet melodies that lurk beneath the surface. This title track is dark, brooding and enjoyably intense.
Audio Download: My Jerusalem, “Preachers”
About the author: Mild-mannered corporate executive by day, excitable Twangville denizen by night.