Ryley Walker wears his influences on his sleeve. There’s no mistaking his deep affinity for late 60s British folk music. The influences of Bert Jansch, Richard Thompson, Fairport Conventon, and Nick Drake are all in the foreground (Walker even sings with a slight British accent. He is from Chicago). That said, this is a really complicated, sometimes unnerving, sometimes beautiful, and extremely nuanced effort. The British folk sound is spiked with occasional psychedelia, a few Grateful Dead interludes (“Love Can Be Cruel”), and a heavy jazz influence (“Summer Dress”). The drumming swings like Elvin Jones playing behind Coltrane; there are scattered vibes all over the place as well as the constant thump of upright bass that sounds like it came from Van Morrison’sAstral Weeks or Scott LaFaro’s work with Bill Evans. All of this makes for a multilayered, sometimes messy tangle of sound. The jam on the end of “Sweet Satisfaction” bursts into a cacophony that gets dangerously close to prog-rock. Walker’s guitar playing is exceptional throughout. “Griffiths Bucks Blues” would make Richard Thompson smile, and “On the Banks of the Old Kishwaukee” can’t hide its Incredible String Band and Bert Jansch influence. Overall, this is a deeply interesting album. I like that I can’t quite figure out where the songs are going, or what exactly Walker is trying to accomplish. This is sometimes maddening, as too many of the songs lack a strong sense of melody or focus. There aren’t many hooks here, but patient listeners will find rewards in Walker’s complex compositions and intricate guitar work.
RIYL: Bert Jansch, Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson, Nick Drake, Steve Gunn