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Ryley Walker

Primrose Green
Release Date: 2015-03-31
Catalog No: DOC101
Label: Dead Oceans

Ryley Walker is the reincarnation of the true True American guitar Guitar player Player. That's as much a testament to his roving, rambling ways, or as to the fact that his Guild D-35 guitar has endured a few stints in the pawnshop. Primrose Green begins near where All Kinds of You, his last record, leaves off but quickly pushes far afield. The title sounds pastoral and quaint, but the titular green has dark hallucinogenic qualities, as does much of the LP. The band 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. 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. The title track "Primrose Green" was nearly discarded after its incarnation on a bleak St. Patrick's Day spent in Oxford, Mississippi. "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. "Summer Dress" is liftoff: seizing the mantle from Tim Buckley's Starsailor and perfecting its frantic jazz-induced fits. It was written in a dressing room in upstate New York, but perfected in rehearsal, veering between a six and ten minute epic. Contained here is the flawless conclusion, but reference the live set to experience the full possibilities of this anarchic work. A forgotten roadside hotel in Tennessee yielded one song, "Same Minds", with just a hint of self-loathing. It was kicked around in rehearsal until taking its shape as a drifting bit of dreamy jazz. A 5-day stretch in Austin, mostly staying on Lechuguillas' Jason Camacho's tile floor with no blanket in a room barely large enough for one yielded most of the rest of the lyrics. "Griffiths Buck's Blues" was almost jettisoned but a thumbs-up from Jason kept it in the repertoire. Griffith Buck was named for a local artist and eccentric botanist in Ryley's hometown of Rockford, Illionois who has likely had few other songs named for him. "Love Can Be Cruel" spends almost two minutes "out" before becoming the song it was originally intended to be. Drummer Frank Rosaly pushes the song further and further until it borders on a cathartic meltdown to close out Side A. Side B sets off with a shot of Americana, "On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee". It's an ode to the immersion baptisms Ryley's witnessed while walking along the banks. Unlike the idyllic memories of christenings under the weeping willows while a crowd looks on happily in their Sunday's best at the healthy young catechumens; the river was brown and polluted, and the participants dirty and tired and disinterested. "Sweet Satisfaction" presents some of Ryley's most intricate and ecstatic fingerpicking. It's hard not to recall John Martyn's early 1970s work, though Ben Boye's piano work is particularly revelatory here. "The High Road" was written while the trio of Ben, Ryley, and Brian Sulpizio (guitar) were on tour, opening for Cloud Nothings. Stuck crashing in a busted, unheated old house in New Orleans Ben sunk into a depression, Brian drank and Ryley drank, but also managed to turn out this ode to the rambling life. "All Kinds Of You" is the oldest song included here. The title should seem familiar... it was written after his first LP, All Kinds of You, was finished, but the name seemed to fit that collection of songs better than anything else. Side B closes with a bit of tossback: "Hide In The Roses", the only solo jam included herein. Cooper Crain (Cave, Bitchin' Bajas), de-facto producer of the record, encouraged Ryley to use the extra studio time to bang something out, and this brilliant piece of Anglophilia emerged as the album's closer. No one knows what the future holds for young Ryley Walker. Hardship and setbacks and dilapidated housing uncertainty only seem to spur him on creatively. Here, with this record, we risk limiting his access to personal disaster by flirting with success. A short lifetime of interminable practice and discipline have resulted in a masterpiece of an album, an album of a sort we haven't seen since the 1970s. If the world catches on, the Ryley that follows up this album may be a different sort of person, one who knows the taste of better liquor and comfortable bedding and might not be nearly as driven. I think he will be just as visionary, though less hungry, but either way... this is the time to get on the Ryley Walker bandwagon. Here, with Primrose Green, we risk limiting his access to personal disaster by flirting with success.
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