Norwich is full of historic churches; this church of St Swithin was converted into an Arts Centre in 1980 and won the NME award for best small venue in Britain in 2014.
This was a suitably atmospheric venue for US singer/songwriter Ryley Walker, leading his band on acoustic and 12-string guitar, with drums, double bass, electric piano and electric guitar. This enabled them to reproduce the textures of the stunning recent album but the arrangements went way beyond copying the recorded versions. Opening with ‘On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee’ it was several minutes before we arrived at the river and Ryley’s mellow vocals. The audience and most of the band seemed rapt as the waves of sound rolled around the old church. Similar delights followed, including the album title track ‘Primrose Green’.
Ryley has an elegant finger picking style, showcased in a solo set part way through which included a cover of Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ and a great version of ‘Cocaine Blues’. He conjures up a similar intimacy and connection as the late John Martyn on these solo tracks and shows the timeless nature of the music.
An evening of excellent songs and performance at a great venue.
(A mention of the support act, intense singer/songwriter/guitarist Danny Whitehouse. I didn’t see his full set but I was impressed that instead of conventional merchandise he was giving away old library books containing hand-written messages…)
Ryley Walker, a guitarist and singer/songwriter from Chicago follows up his 2014 debut album ‘All Kinds Of You’ with a new collection of jazz/folk/rock songs, built on his percussive acoustic guitar picking and subtle accompanying instrumentation.
Some commentators have compared him with Nick Drake, I think that is because of a desire to find such a person rather than the reality. His free-form pieces have more in common with some of the more experimental work of John Martyn, but he is taking any influences in a new direction, adding a rockier edge too. This is most evident in the epic ‘Sweet Satisfaction’; it starts off like a track from Martyn’s classic album ‘Solid Air’ then the emotional lyric and acoustic vibe tangles up with a distorted electric guitar and drums building to an exhausting, relentless finale. Brilliant.
This is followed by the gentle string sounds of ‘The High Road’. A roving double bass introduces the instrumental passage of ‘Same Minds’ before the vocal soars and glides above it all. ‘Griffiths Bucks Blues’ is a zesty instrumental, ‘On The Banks of the Old Kishwaukee’ is a bluesy slice of Americana. In contrast, ‘Hide In The Roses’ could almost be from the soundtrack to sinister British horror-flick ‘The Wicker Man’. The opening track ‘Primrose Green’ has many of the good ingredients of the rest of the songs with a more mellow vocal performance.
So it is moving in a different direction from his first album, more loose and moody. I look forward to seeing him in concert..