by Keith Hadad
[W]ith the last gasp of the bitter, steely winter months nearly behind us, the release of Primrose Green, Ryley Walker’s sophomore album, is like a deep soak of warm, revitalizing sunshine.
Getting his start in punk and noise music in and around Chicago, Walker lately has been crafting tunes that sound like if the ‘70s jazz-tinged folk rock of Pentangle and John Martyn were left alone in the woods for numerous years to grow and evolve into a wholly new beast. His debut record, All Kinds of You, is mostly a stark, intimate and nearly all acoustic record, allowing for Walker’s complex picking style and song structures to take center stage. Now, almost a year since All Kinds…was released, Primrose Green shows a skilled, young and ever progressing artist who’s absolutely in love with playing music. Walker’s philosophy towards his music is to “just make it new every time. Make it different and try to update a formula that’s been beaten to death and kind of make it my own. It’s really therapeutic and I get a lot of joy out of it. So I do what makes me happy.”
These sentiments come across easily when one listens to his music, especially the element of loose improvisation, which Walker says is an important aspect to his songs that carried over from his experimental noise days. “I think the energy of noise and punk carries through into what I do now. Obviously they’re at different ends of the spectrum of sound but the energy of it and the collective controlled chaos of improvising is always there, it’s in everything I do.”
Instead of All Kinds’ predominantly stripped down sound, Primrose Green features Walker and a tight backup group performing a dense jazzy soundscape ripe with opportunities for soloing and jamming. In terms of sound and approach, one may detect hints of everything from Tim Buckley to Pharaoh Sanders and even a little bit of traditional Arabic and Indian music on this record. Walker says that this is due to him being a major music fan first, musician second. “I’m a record collector, a record lover. So my brain is just a sponge so anytime I can acquire knowledge or skill or be introduced to a type of music that is unfamiliar to me, that’s important…it’s important to get these collected philosophies and values from all sorts of musicians from around the world.”
Despite Walker’s songs being a hodgepodge of the music that he adores, it’s completely unpredictable. He and his group consistently zig when you expect them to zag. One minute, they’re slowly building up a rapid-fire jam into a hallucinatory crescendo with fuzzy electric guitars on top of a cascade of percussion and the next minute, they’ve stripped down to an acoustic guitar, bass and brushed drums with the occasional piano trill set to a breezy, mellow beat.
Even though he’s released two fantastic full-length albums less than a year apart from each other, currently touring The States and then touring through Europe in the fall, Walker says that he might have a few collaborations and/or some limited release items coming out before 2016. With such a prolific output so early on in his career, Walker is not only an artist to keep an eye on this year, he’s one to keep an eye on from here on out.