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RYLEY WALKER

David Grubbs & Ryley Walker

A Tap On The Shoulder

    You never know when that tap’s going to come. How about now? (Not for you to decide.) Or exactly what it means—except in the aftermath.

    Mutual admiration society and David Grubbs and Ryley Walker had been taking notes on one another’s playing for some time before they hit the stage together on a couple of blistering occasions immediately pre-pandemic. (One of these live sets was released earlier this year as Fight or Flight Simulator on Café OTO’s Takuroku label.)

    Studio sessions were clearly in the cards, and the result is A Tap on the Shoulder, a collection of duo performances that veers from crystalline instrumental compositions (“A Tap on the Shoulder,” “Accepting Most Plans,” “Dorothy Kept”) to animated alien chatterfests (“Leslie Steinberger”), and from ecstatic extrapolations charging this way and that (“Pump Fake on the Death Rattle,” “The Madman from Massachusetts in an Empty Bar”) to, I don’t know, words don’t do the trick (“Uglification”). Don’t think for a second that these shorthand descriptions suffice.

    Electric guitars make electronic music. Ryley’s hellion musical fearlessness lights a fire under the more typically Apollonian, chess-masterly Grubbs. What’s good for the geezer is good for the, etc. And where the duo’s live performances thus far have been set-length juggernauts, A Tap on the Shoulder toggles effortlessly between microscope, telescope, and Cinemascope, letting the smallest of gestures land in all of its sonic specificity before opening the scene up to disorienting panoramas.

    Listen to A Tap on the Shoulder in the context of Ryley’s glorious Course in Fable; listen to it in the context of Grubbs’s playing with Loren Connors, Jim O’Rourke, Taku Unami, and others; or listen to it as if you’ve never heard note one from these soulful odd birds, the two of them curiously, quixotically committed to working inside and beyond song form.

    TRACK LISTING

    1. A Tap On The Shoulder (5:42)
    2. Accepting Most Plans (3:04)
    3. Uglification (13:30)
    4. Leslie Steinberger (4:27) 
    5. Pump Fake On The Death Rattle (8:26)
    6. Dorothy Kept (2:50)
    7. The Madman From Massachusetts In An Empty Bar (7:53)

    Ryley Walker

    Course In Fable

      Ryley Walker currently resides in New York City. But his latest LP is a Chicago record in spirit. The masterful Course In Fable, the songwriter’s fifth solo effort, draws from the deep well of that city’s fertile 1990s scene, when bands like Tortoise, The Sea and Cake and Gastr del Sol were reshaping the underground, mixing and matching indie rock, jazz, prog and beyond.

      Walker spent his formative years in Chicago, absorbing those heady sounds and finding ways to make them his own. Even though he emerged at first in folk-rock troubadour mode, it makes sense that he’s arrived at this point; each LP has grown more intricate and assured, his influences distilling into something original and unusual. To put it simply: Course In Fable is Walker’s best record yet, full of active imagination and endless possibilities.

      Last October, Ryley went straight to one of the primary architects of the Chicago sound to make the LP. John McEntire, Course In Fable’s producer/engineer/ mixer, can rightly be called a legend for his work with Tortoise, Stereolab, The Red Krayola, Jim O’Rourke and countless others over a prolific career that now spans more than three decades. Seeing his name in an album’s liners is pretty much a trademark of quality.

      Another Windy City exile, McEntire is based on the west coast these days, working out of the Portland, OR studio he’s dubbed Soma West. On the seven songs here, he delivers the signature shimmering and pristine sonics he’s become known for over the years. But McEntire was also intimately involved with Course In Fable’s overall creative process. “I told him to take the mixes and have at it,” Walker says.

      The result is a rich, immersive affair — a headphones record if ever there was one. Course In Fable’s songs are twisty, labyrinthine things, stuffed full of ideas (Walker half-jokingly calls it his “prog record”). But no matter how complex it gets, the album is never overwhelmingly busy. Wiry guitars melt into gorgeous string sections (arranged by Douglas Jenkins of the Portland Cello Project). Tricky time signatures abound but feel as natural as can be. Melodies o@en dri@ in unexpected directions but remain downright hummable. Like Walker’s beloved Genesis, the pop element is never too far from the surface even when shit gets weird. (And speaking of weird, Ryley says that in addition to Genesis, much of the album’s inspiration comes from “Australian extreme scooter riders on YouTube and balding gear heads on Craigslist.” Go figure.)

      To help put together these various puzzle pieces, Ryley assembled a band made up of several longtime collaborators. Bill MacKay (another Chicago mainstay) and Walker have made two excellent instrumental duo records of interlocking guitars and warm give-and-take — a rapport very much in evidence throughout Course In Fable. The freakishly talented drummer Ryan Jewell has performed with Walker for years now in a variety of settings, from straightforward song-centric sets to blown-out improv extravaganzas. Bassist Andrew Scott Young (Tiger Hatchery, Health & Beauty) has logged many miles on tour with Walker; he and Jewell are frequently astonishing, a buoyant-but-always-locked-in rhythm section, able to navigate sometimes dizzying turnarounds with apparent ease. Listening to the interplay between Walker and these musicians and you might be fooled into thinking they’d spent a year road-testing Course In Fable’s songs. But it all came together relatively fast, thanks to demos, rehearsals and the kind of musical empathy that comes from years of playing together.

      Beneath the wondrous interplay, you’ll find some of Walker’s most personal – if still typically cryptic — lyrics, hinting at some of the trials the songwriter has been dealing with in recent years. Balanced with necessary doses of dark humour and oddball poetry, Course In Fable feels most of all like a life-affirming record, fresh air in the lungs, sun on your skin. “Fuck me, I’m alive,” Ryley sings at one point, a moment of both disbelief and pure joy.

      Walker has released his albums on a who’s-who of independent labels over the past decade — Tompkins Square, Dead Oceans, Thrill Jockey and Drag City among them. This time around, he’s doing it DIY-style, putting Course In Fable out on his own Husky Pants imprint. You’re in good hands. This is an album that sounds great (mastered by Greg Calbi), looks great (artwork by Jenny Nelson and design by Michael Vallera). It probably even smells great. Whether you’ve been onboard since the beginning or are new to the Ryley Walker universe, you’re in for a treat.

      STAFF COMMENTS

      Barry says: Though we've seen a number of iterations of that Ryley Walker sound, it's great to hear him go back to the sound that drew me in in the first place. 'Course In Fable' touches upon the more avant-jazz leanings of his more recent output but lies firmly within the progressive full-bodied folk-rock ethos that made 'Primrose Green' and 'Golden Sings...' such essential listening experiences. Really marvellous stuff.

      TRACK LISTING

      1. Striking Your Big Premier (5:10)
      2. Rang Dizzy (4:50)
      3. A Lenticular Slap (7:54)
      4. Axis Bent (4:36)
      5. Clad With Bunk (6:15)
      6. Pond Scum Ocean (8:05)
      7. Shiva With Dustpan (5:43)

      Various Artists

      Ryley Walker Presents Imaginational Anthem Vol. Nine

        Tompkins Square label's very first release in 2005 was the acoustic guitar compilation, Imaginational Anthem Volume One. The concept was to showcase new talents alongside first-gen American Primitive guitar legends, a formula that stuck across the first three volumes. Volume Four, released in 2010, featured all contemporary players, giving many folks their first taste of William Tyler, C Joynes, Chris Forsyth and Tyler Ramsey. The label then started farming out curation duties to others : Sam Moss for Volume 5, Chris King for Volume 6 (Origins of American Primitive Guitar), Hayden Pedigo for Volume 7, and Michael Klausman & Brooks Rice for Volume 8 (The Private Press). Tompkins Square recruited label alum Ryley Walker to compile Volume Nine. Given his deep Rolodex and exquisite taste, it's no surprise that this comp is probably the most diverse of the series. Nine of the eleven artists were previously unknown to us, so we get to discover new artists just like our label fans do. 

        TRACK LISTING

        1/Mosses - Om Ah Hung
        2/Shane Parrish - Leicester Hwy
        3/Eli Winter - Woodlawn Waltz
        4/Dida Pelled - Walkin' My Cat Named Dog
        5/Kendra Amalie - Boat Ride
        6/Matthew Sage - Camaro Canyon
        7/Pete Fosco - Variations On Themes For Blind Dogs
        8/Fire-Toolz - World Of Objects (Guitar Edit)
        9/Lucas Brode - Knots Where Never Was
        10/Dave Miller – Seedlings
        11/Matthew Rolin - I Used To Sing

        On ‘The Lillywhite Sessions’, Ryley Walker and the similarly indebted trio of drummer Ryan Jewell and bassist Andrew Scott Young cover Dave Matthews’ infamously abandoned 2001 art-rock masterpiece of the same name, a record where he and his band indulged a new adult pathos and a budding musical wanderlust.

        With a delicate rhythmic latticework and vocals that ask you to lean in, ‘Busted Stuff’ recalls Jim O’ Rourke’s golden Drag City days. Emerging from a wall of distortion, ‘Diggin’ a Ditch’ becomes a power trio wallop à la Dinosaur Jr, shaking off existential malaise like twenty-something pals writing rock songs in the garage. Walker’s ‘Grace is Gone’, the most faithful take here, is a testament to his unflagging love for the music that helped make him a musician.

        This end-to-end interpretation of youthful fascination is a collective reminder that we are all just kids from somewhere, reckoning with our upbringing the best we can. Walker has stepped through the door long ago opened by the Dave Matthews Band to find a world teeming with musical possibilities. On ‘The Lillywhite Sessions’, he has, in turn, created his own.

        STAFF COMMENTS

        Barry says: As well as being a VERY good follow on the ol' Twitter, Ryley Walker is also a superb chap and undeniably brilliant songwriter and musician. Although the songwriting doesn't really get a look in on this release (it being entirely covers), it is clear that his laid-back style and impeccable vocal performance is only improving. Even if you've never heard this Dave Matthews Band release before, I implore you to hear Walker's take on things. Stunning.

        TRACK LISTING

        Busted Stuff
        Grey Street
        Diggin’ A Ditch
        Sweet Up And Down
        JTR
        Big Eyed Fish
        Grace Is Gone
        Captain
        Bartender
        Monkey Man
        Kit Kat Jam
        Raven

        “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.

        I’m lucky enough to have some people who are playing on it who had a big part in shaping the songs and writing with me. Cooper Crain, the guy who engineered it, and played all the synthesizers. And when the flute guy, Nate Lepine came in, that was really something that made it special. The producer was this guy LeRoy Bach. I love LeRoy, he’s a really talented guy. He did the last record too.

        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.” – Ryley Walker.

        STAFF COMMENTS

        Barry says: Narcotics enthusiast and all-round ledge Ryley takes us on his newest journey into the wilderness with 'Deafman Glance', with the same tender plucking acousticry we've come to know and love, but with the psychedelic element all the more pronounced. Brilliantly progressive and nuanced songwriting with Walker's imitable style.

        TRACK LISTING

        1. In Castle Dome
        2. 22 Days
        3. Accommodations
        4. Can't Ask Why
        5. Opposite Middle
        6. Telluride Speed
        7. Expired
        8. Rocks On Rainbow
        9. Spoil With The Rest

        Bill MacKay & Ryley Walker

        SpiderBeetleBee

          Drag City presents the second volume of Bill MacKay and Ryley Walker’s inspired collaboration. It’s been nearly two years since their much-admired 2015 debut, Land of Plenty (Whistler Records), and SpiderBeetleBee more than makes up for lost time with rich, resonant performances that elevate the sound of the guitar duo as they work with an ever-widening panorama of styles.

          Their first album was developed over a month-long live residency at Chicago bar The Whistler, and reflected MacKay and Walker’s shared joy in a new relationship with a kindred spirit, in playing that might wordlessly finish a phrase or suggest a direction, as they spoke through their guitars. SpiderBeetleBee continues fluidly down the path of their initial psych-folk-blues-raga tandem, brewing further explorations in mixed-and-matched idioms, turning composed melodies inside-out via improvisation, and finding in the blend a shared Walker/MacKay pasture, serendipitously found somewhere between Appalachia and the Highlands.

          SpiderBeetleBee radiates forth with equal parts austerity and whimsy, opening with an almost-baroque dance before giving way to a Celtic theme, both featuring MacKay and Walker’s acoustics in rambling conversation, picking through intricate passages as though they were exchanges, thoughts and afterthoughts. The second of these, “Pretty Weeds Revisited” is enhanced by sonorous statements from Dutch cellist Katinka Kleijn (a veteran of the CSO), showing a deep, instinctive feel for the Walker/MacKay sound. The album then takes an unexpected turn at midpoint, slowly melting down and drifting soulfully through the expansive space of “Naturita.” Side two picks up the tempo on “I Heard Them Singing,” with the aid of MacKay’s requinto (a kind of 5-string Mexican guitar), Walker’s rolling chords and the percolating tabla of Ryan Jewell, suggesting a hitherto unknown short-cut from Brazil to India. Drafts of slide guitar and bittersweet blues evocation illumine further fruitful travels before “Dragonfly”, also featuring Ms. Kleijn’s haunting cello, closes the cycle with a flourish.

          Adorned with Bill MacKay’s colorful and wilfully primitive cover-art, SpiderBeetleBee wanders through styles, landmasses and hemispheres, capturing the further adventures of MacKay and Walker with spellbinding snapshots that only bloom larger the longer you take them in.

          TRACK LISTING

          1 The Grand Old Trout
          2 Pretty Weeds Revisited
          3 Lower Chestnut
          4 Naturita
          5 I Heard Them Singing
          6 Stretching My Dollar In Plano
          7 Lonesome Traveler
          8 Dragonfly

          Ryley Walker

          Golden Sings That Have Been Sung - Deep Cuts Edition

          Ryley Walker is pleased to announce his new album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, coming out August 19th on Dead Oceans. It’s the triumphant follow up to his breakout album, Primrose Green, which earned critical hosannas from the likes of NPR, Village Voice, Uncut, and Mojo and admiration of musicians who had chalked up no shortage of turntable miles in Walker’s life. Robert Plant declared himself a fan – as did double-bass legend Danny Thompson, with whom Ryley embarked on a British tour.

          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. After a year spent on the road, all that Ryley could associate with Chicago was the emotional debris he had left behind.

          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.

          STAFF COMMENTS

          Barry says: Having been one of our end of year favourites in 2015, Ryley Walker had a lot to live up to with this follow-up (obviously he had impressing us in mind). It turns out that this is just as monumental, if not moreso. There is a sense of assurance here, a confidence gained through years of honing his craft. Perfectly sculpted Americana-tinged acoustic guitars are bolstered but never overpowered by frenetic violin slashes, molasses-slow drums perfectly compliment the unhurried and confident instrumentation. Walker and band have got a lot of bettering to do if they'll ever top this, but going on previous form, i'm sure they will. An absorbing and rewarding listen.

          TRACK LISTING

          2CD Tracklisting
          1 The Halfwit In Me
          2 A Choir Apart
          3 Funny Thing She Said
          4 Sullen Mind
          5 I Will Ask You Twice
          6 The Roundabout
          7 The Great And Undecided
          8 Age Old Tale
          9 Sullen Mind (Live At SiriusXMU The Loft)

          2LP Tracklisting
          1 The Halfwit In Me
          2 A Choir Apart
          3 Funny Thing She Said
          4 Sullen Mind
          5 I Will Ask You Twice
          6 The Roundabout
          7 The Great And Undecided
          8 Age Old Tale
          9 Sullen Mind (Live At SiriusXMU The Loft) - Part 1
          10 Sullen Mind (Live At SiriusXMU The Loft) - Part 2

          Ryley Walker

          Golden Sings That Have Been Sung

          In November 2015, at the end of a ten month period which saw him play over 200 shows, Ryley Walker decided that he should probably head home. The preceding months had been extraordinary. In March, his second album ‘Primrose Green’, emerged to critical hosannas from the likes of NPR, Village Voice, Uncut and Mojo and in the process earning admiration of musicians who had chalked up no shortage of turntable miles in Walker’s life. Robert Plant declared himself a fan, as did double-bass legend Danny Thompson, with whom Ryley would later embark on a British tour. A sprawling tour of the USA around ‘Primrose Green’ presented a perfect chance to workshop ideas for what would eventually become this, his third studio album, ‘Golden Sings That Have Been Sung’.

          ‘The Roundabout’ represents a symbolic return to Chicago, while other songs are directly wedded to Ryley’s actual return there. Perhaps more than any other song on the record, the somnambulant sun-dappled intimacies of opening track ‘The Halfwit In Me’ most audibly bear the imprint of Ryley’s improvisational sessions with Wilco multi-instrumentalist, Chicagoan and producer Leroy Bach, while ‘Funny Thing She Said’ is an unflinching study of separation set to a shimmeringly supple ensemble performance.

          Soft, slo-mo explosions of melody intermittently burst through the distant thunder of the verses on ‘A Choir Apart’. Intriguing, surreal images are meted out by ‘I Will Ask You Twice’, like a malfunctioning slide projector and, perhaps best of all, the stunning finale, ‘Age Old Tale’, which spiders out from an Alice Coltrane-inspired reverie into a sustained rapture that very few artists have managed to achieve.

          STAFF COMMENTS

          Barry says: Having been one of our end of year favourites in 2015, Ryley Walker had a lot to live up to with this follow-up (obviously he had impressing us in mind). It turns out that this is just as monumental, if not more so. There is a sense of assurance here, a confidence gained through years of honing his craft. Perfectly sculpted Americana-tinged acoustic guitars are bolstered but never overpowered by frenetic violin slashes while molasses-slow drums perfectly compliment the unhurried and confident instrumentation. Walker and band have got a lot of bettering to do if they'll ever top this, but going on previous form, i'm sure they will. An absorbing and rewarding listen.

          TRACK LISTING

          The Halfwit In Me
          A Choir Apart
          Funny Thing She Said
          Sullen Mind
          I Will Ask You Twice
          The Roundabout
          The Great And Undecided
          Age Old Tale

          Ryley Walker

          Primrose Green

            The title sounds pastoral and quaint, but the titular green has dark hallucinogenic qualities, as does much of the LP. Ryley didn’t have much time to write this LP, so some of it he didn’t. Bits of lyrics were improvised into full-blown songs in the studio, more often than not on the fly. However, the ratty bits of handwritten words that make up the balance of the record grew from scattered misadventures across an ill-fated 2013 tour.

            The band on Primrose Green is a mixture of new and old Chicago talent, blending both jaded veterans of the post-rock and jazz mini-circuits together with a few eager, open-eared youths. (It’s worth stating at this point that this is not a jazz record, despite the sheer volume of jazz and experimental heavyweights that make up the rest of Primrose Green’s all-star cast. Chicago has blurred these lines since forever.)

            Ryley Walker is the reincarnation of the True American Guitar Player. That’s as much a testament to his roving, rambling ways as to the fact that his Guild D-35 guitar has endured a few stints in the pawnshop. Swap out rural juke joints for rotted DIY spaces and the archetype is solidly intact. His personal life might be tumultuous and his residential status in question, but his bedrock is disciplined daily rehearsal and an inexhaustible wellspring of song craft.

            Raised on the banks of the ol’ Rock River in northern Illinois, Ryley’s early life doesn’t give us much more than Midwestern mundanity to speak of. Things start to pick up in 2007, when he moves to Chicago and briefly attempts a collegiate lifestyle. Here, he storms the local noise scene with his Jasmine-brand electric guitar, and a few years of wasted finger-bleeding basement shows firmly established his name locally, if not always positively. By 2011, at age 21, Ryley’s music offered impressive displays of fingerpicking prowess, though not fully elaborated documents.

            It was a 2012 bike accident that set Ryley on his current path. Practice became more diligent. He began lacquering his fingertips at cheap salons. Ryley was finding a new path refracting the British traditional spectrum, from Bert Jansch to Nick Drake, and defying all the limitations of the genre. His 2013 recordings — The West Wind EP and All Kinds of You LP – fully express these Anglophilic tendencies to the point of nearly exhausting their possibilities.

            “Primrose Green” is a colloquial term for a cocktail of whiskey and morning glory seeds that has a murky, dreamy, absinthian quality when imbibed, and a spirit-crushing aftereffect the morning after. It is the moment before departure from the mindstate of Ryley’s previous release, All Kinds Of You.


            STAFF COMMENTS

            Andy says: Love Tim Buckley, John Martyn and Nick Drake? So does Ryley Walker! Classic songs, grooves and vibes, but unlike the folk-lite froth choking up the "Charts", this goes straight to the source and brings it on home! Good stuff.

            TRACK LISTING

            1. Primrose Green
            2. Summer Dress
            3. Same Minds
            4. Griffiths Bucks Blues
            5. Love Can Be Cruel
            6. On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee
            7. Sweet Satisfaction
            8. The High Road
            9. All Kinds Of You
            10. Hide In The Roses


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