[photos by Jill Harrison]
There are many good singers, many more good writers of songs. More than enough to fill entire festivals with them year-round, to stuff streaming sites with more than anyone can listen to. But among that vast number, there are a tiny few in whom you can sense that something else, that spark, that undergirding realness, that makes their performance more than just-singing or just-playing-guitar. To see Ryley Walker perform is to experience a man singing to somewhere else, sending sound out to and for souls long since gone. That voice, that sound of his, the ecstatic yelps, those long, punch-drunk runs, threatening to split apart but never quite doing it, is singular. It may resonate with you, or it may not, but if it doesn’t, the thing missing in the equation is what you’re putting into it, not him.
This show at Baby’s All Right, our fourth time seeing Ryley in the last twelve months, finds him at an interesting point. Primrose Green, his tour-de-force second record, releases at month end, and has already found itself hailed in all the right places, turning Walker into a critical darling seemingly overnight. He’ll be at this summer’s Pitchfork Festival, at Wilco’s Solid Sound Festival, at Levitation in Vancouver, and any number of other places in the U.S. and Europe where of-the-moment acts can be seen. It’s hard to know what the effect of the crowds might be on this man, this music that requires him to give so much of himself emotionally every night. There are too many tales about how this part of the music world has split women and men in half.
But our best evidence about Ryley’s part of this story is this night at Baby’s All Right, in a jammed show room on a Sunday night. The 38 minutes of this set consist of just four songs, played this time with a band consisting of Ryley’s Chicago-based musician colleagues on second guitar, upright bass, and keys (over half of the band that we first saw perform in Raleigh back in September). The foursome appeared, as far as I know, only in Chicago and at this New York date — D.C. two nights before was a threesome (minus upright bass), as was Philadelphia just before the Brooklyn show — but their playing reminds you how well they know this material. The band weaved around Ryley’s lead as they reinterpreted Primrose Green songs that most of these fans probably haven’t heard original versions of yet on record. These weren’t idle-minded jams, either, but successful experiments, one after the other, from the new “Funny Thing She Said”, to tour staple “Summer Dress”, to “Primrose Green” to Ryley’s go-to cover song of late, Van Morrison’s “Fair Play” from Veedon Fleece. Shaved, hair clipped, wearing a collar and sweater that even had Ryley laughing at himself, Walker played with all the intensity he’s mustered every time we’ve seen him, but there was a new assuredness there, too, an ability to pull back just when he needed to. These thirty-eight minutes were like all of his sets I have seen: a thing of beauty, something memorable, something unique.
If you go to see one new artist this year because you read about them on this site, I hope Ryley Walker is the one. Nobody, not even him, knows where his story is headed. But this set proved once again where he deserves to be.
Baby’s All Right engineer Harrison Fore recorded and mixed this set live; I mixed this and the house-installed audience mics and mastered the recording in post. The sound quality is outstanding, equal to the quality of the performer you’re listening to. Enjoy.
Stream the complete show:
Baby’s All Right
Brooklyn, NY USA
Exclusive download hosted at nyctaper.com
Recorded and live mixed by Harrison Fore
Produced by acidjack
Soundboard (engineer: Harrison Fore) + Audio Technica 4051>digital multitrack>SD card>Adobe Audition CS 5.5 (mix down individual tracks, compression, fades)>Izotope Ozone 5 (EQ, imaging, exciter)>Audacity 2.0.5 (tracking, amplify, balance, downsample, dither)>FLAC ( level 8 )
Tracks [Total Time: 38:06]
01 Funny Thing She Said
02 Summer Dress
04 Primrose Green
06 Fair Play [Van Morrison]