No bells. No whistles. No buzzing synths. No auto tune. Just a man, his guitar, his band, and his voice. It’s music our parents and grandparents listened to back in the 60s and 70s, yet the man behind Primrose Green is only in his mid-twenties. Ryley Walker, like Steve Gunn, is among a new wave of musicians – precise, expert guitar players who are taking their turns as songwriters and perfecting that craft. Another way to think of them – they are the next generation of James Taylors and Nick Drakes.
Whereas Gunn took us on a sonic, rock adventure with the majestic Way Out Weather, Walker guides us on a carefully curated tour of jazz, blues, folk, and rock, often blending these genres together. From the opening title track, we’re introduced to the brilliance and skills of Walker – a perfectly orchestrated, full-band song that is part jazz and part ’60s rock, the precision of Walker’s strumming, and his gentle, soothing voice. The standup bass and tickling of piano keys on “Summer Keys’ is the sound of a well-established, well-oiled jazz machine. And while his voice doesn’t reach the range of Louis Armstrong, you get the feeling Walker is channeling the great jazz master as he yells, “I’m feeling, feeling, feeling all right!”
“Griffiths Bucks Blues” is an opportunity for Walker to showcase his immense guitar skills – quick finger plucking to strumming. Complemented by a violin, the track is one to lay back, close your eyes, and enjoy the gorgeous sound being produced by the two string instruments. Where as “Blues” was harmoniously lush, “Love Can Be Cruel” is a crossing, though not a competition, of instruments to create a nearly atmospheric tone. This lasts for nearly 110 seconds before Walker’s voice is heard, but only in quick spurts. The vocals act as the bridge while the instrumentation takes centre stage on this blues-folk-rock track.
“On The Banks of the Old Kishwaukee” is a fantastic, swaying, blues tune with the storytelling that respects the genre’s lengthy history. “The High Road” and “Hide in the Roses” are set against classical arrangements. They are delicate, hush songs with the former having an almost hymnal quality and the latter emanating of a young Gordon Lightfoot – just an acoustic guitar and the sound of Walker’s voice.
Primrose Green isn’t a euphoric album nor will it put you in a dream-like state. It isn’t part of the collection of music that overwhelms you with overdubs and laptop-producing beats. Instead, Walker is standing alone among the plenty to make music that captures people’s imagination for its instrumentation and respect for the classics. In that respect, Primrose Green is just an instant classic but a trailblazing record.
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