The air begins to feel a little fresher, the contours of the land begin to feel familiar again. When you turn the knob to your apartment, house, duplex, room, tent, what-have-you, you can feel the emptiness of it all. But it is any emptiness that wants to be filled up so quickly and fully so that it is alive again, humming from your presence. You are all but willing to drown in its comfort.
Ryley Walker recorded his newest album “Golden Sings That Have Been Sung” after finding himself back in Chicago after the biggest journey of his career. The previous 10 months had seen the guitarist and singer-songwriter rise to international acclaim on the back of his breakthrough album “Primrose Green,” an exquisite collection of songs that critics praised for its lush instrumentation and Walker’s mastery of the guitar. The newfound attention translated into more than 200 shows in that time period to bring the exciting new guitarist to as many audiences as possible.
Soon after returning back to his home, Walker began recording. Whether he was coming down from the road, trying to reconnect to his roots, some combination of the two or something more practical, the music continued to flow from Walker. He hooked up with one of his inspirations, Wilco multi-instrumentalist LeRoy Bach, to produce the album. The two used to jam together and Bach’s connection to the greater swath of influential Chicago musicians that Walker admired certainly makes the album something of a reintegration of the guitarist back to the home from whence he came.
When you look at the album art of “Primrose Green” and “Golden Sings That Have Been Sung,” you can see how the two come from two different worlds. The former is a double-exposure shot of Walker awash in green landscape, a fairy tale, capturing the outside world and its wonder. The latter is a colorful, surreal landscape of strawberry moons and a golden river that flows from the sun, a snapshot of something created from the mind’s eye. “Golden Sings That Have Been Sung” is crafted from a return to home to reconnect with what is going on with yourself. The album is not really introspective, trying to decode the processes of Walker’s life, as much as it is just present in his mind at the time. It is calmer, with less movement, easier to relax with. He seems to have taken a deep breath and centered himself in the music of his mind.
The album awakens with the teeming warmth of “The Halfwit In Me” that soothes the soul. Walker’s adept flourishes on the guitar are every bit as pretty as a flower in the morning dew and the talented jazz musicians he’s assembled around him buzz around him with earnestness of bees flying among the flowers getting their fill of pollen and nectar, two companions whose beauty relies on the cooperation of the other.
The sunniness gives way to muted, bruised tones on “A Choir Apart.” The keyboards and synths are as deep and succulent as a plum, soaking into the sparse rhythm, with Walker adding sugary strokes of his guitar to add a little sweetness to the affair. He sings with a tinge of longing, for something just outside of his peripheries he senses a need of connection. That connection reveals itself as someone in the fog of his precious memories on “Funny Thing She Said.” Walker creates a melancholic haze to wander with his wafting guitar that lingers in the still air, intertwining cellos standing stark in the night. In songs like these, and in the gloomy “Sullen Mind,” the guitarist’s skill as an architect of worlds and scenes with his descriptive melodies is tangibly apparent .
His masterpiece on the album is the nostalgic “The Roundabout.” As ethereal vibes ripple along with acoustic guitars and the pitter-pat of drums, Walker sings, “I take the roundabout because I like to see my house,” with the integrity of someone who has a deep sense of home. The song swells with electricity with each passing verse as Walker muses on the love that runs through him, his past and his future and how they call connect to the roundabout. It is his home, a sanctuary that “Golden Sings That Have Been Sung” captures wonderfully.
- Ryley Walker
‘Golden Sings That Have Been Sung’
Release: Aug. 19, 2016
Label: Dead Oceans