April 17, 2014

RyleyWalker_L

Will Schube is gonna Eat At Joe’s

The re-emergence of guitar-centric folk music is indebted to the great work we’ve been exposed to courtesy of re-issue labels and the ever expanding cartography of the internet. Michael Chapman’s Fully Qualified Survivor is now a touchstone for many young songwriters, thanks to the work of Light in the Attic Records. I didn’t know the name John Fahey until I discovered contemporary songwriters who let at the chance to drop his name. Steve Gunn, Kurt Vile, Sam Amidon—these dudes were shaped by the plethora of available music previously inaccessible to aspiring musicians. The results of such treasure troves are far-reaching. The new crop of musicians, the young guns who grew up on this music, are more interesting than ever.

A larger resource pool is accessible; artists are more easily able to offer influences from disparate regions of musical vocabularies. One such figure currently representing this new breed of folk troubadour is Ryley Walker, a young man from Chicago who’s about to release his debut self-titled album via Tompkins Square—a label at the forefront of both re-issues and new, interesting releases. They’ve released early records from William Tyler and Daniel Bachman, as well as re-introducing underrated singers of yesteryear: Calvin Keys and Bill Wilson have found new audiences thanks to the label.

Ryley Walker is a part of the world he feeds from. He sounds less like a dude playing 60s avant-folk music than a dude from the 60s doing so. Album opener “The West Wind” illustrates this beautifully with its skittering strings, artful piano stabs, and Walker’s warbly voice. Just sweet enough to stave off alienation, Walker’s voice anchors “Wind”‘s intricate musical accompaniment. “Twin Oaks Pt. 1” is one of the album’s more upbeat moments, despite the desolate tone of Walker’s finger-picking. The bass drum pulses and locks in with the stand-up bass in a way that creates beautiful urgency. The strings buzz and flutter, lending the instrumental track a bit of chaos. “Great River Road” follows “Oaks” but doesn’t stand out in any particular way. Its ragtime groove is archetypal and unwilling to engage. Moments like this are Walker’s greatest weakness. He’s so steeped in musical tradition that he often lets his knowledge speak louder than his compositions. There are a few moments in which he’s satisfied enough to rest on the concept of his composition, as opposed to building such a structure into something new and exciting. However, these moments are lifted by the album’s overall beauty and grace. “Fonda” is a clinic on fingerpicked guitar, while “On the Rise” is a gritty interpretation of what I imagine railroad workers listened to.

Walker is so steeped in folk tradition that redundancies are welcomed examples of his virtuosity. Walker’s debut record is far more polished than a first folk record should be. It’s clean, confident, and a great companion piece to the work of his contemporaries. Most important, though, is the anachronistic nature of Walker’s work. It’s a 60s album made in the 21st century, a 21st century album made in the 60s. The date doesn’t matter—Walker distances himself from time through his music. All that matters is that it exists…And thank the folk gods for that.

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