LIVE: Ryley Walker @ the Low Beat, 10/12/15
Review by Steven Stock
Videos by Timothy Raab
25-year-old Ryley Walker arrived at the Low Beat last Monday night with a passel of press clippings that would be the envy of many more established performers. Some critics go west and cite Tim Buckley and the Grateful Dead as major influences, while others jump the pond and refer to Van Morrison, Pentangle, John Martyn and Nick Drake.
Heady company indeed, and the scope and ambition of Walker’s compositions ultimately justify the comparisons, even as his reach sometimes exceeds his grasp. The current tour features Walker’s fingerpicking acoustic guitar, Brian Sulpizio providing filigree with understated electric guitar and Ben Boye alternating between harmonium and organ. Both Boye and Sulpizio appear on Walker’s much-lauded LPs, 2014’s All Kinds of You (Tompkins Square) and the recent Primrose Green (Dead Oceans). So of course they came out and played nary a track from either record. If this night was any indication, Walker is more interested in exploring sonic terra incognita than resting on his considerable laurels.
When I first spotted Boye’s harmonium I immediately dreamt of an evening of Nico covers, but instead the small coterie of music lovers huddled at the back of the Low Beat was treated to four unreleased Walker originals over the course of 45 minutes. The trio eased into things with a couple of snappy little five-minute numbers, “The Great & Undecided” and “The Roundabout.” Boye’s repeating organ motif on the latter was reminiscent of Mike Ratledge’s work on early Soft Machine records, contrasting nicely with Walker’s idyllic acoustic guitar.
Once they had us hooked, Walker and his bandmates unleashed 17 minutes of “Sullen Mind” (perhaps a rejoinder to the classic “Satisfied Mind?”) and followed that with 11 minutes of “Funny Thing She Said.” To be honest with you, it was a bit much – without the ace rhythm section that propelled Walker’s recent performance at the Solid Sound Festival, this trio couldn’t quite reach the ecstatic heights of transcendence they were aiming for (and that make 17-minute songs palatable to people who don’t smoke dope).
The three-piece format probably can’t provide ideal orchestration for Walker’s new songs, but I give him credit for having the balls to play a full set of unreleased material, and in all likelihood the trial run provided by the current tour will prove beneficial to Walker’s next record.
Michael Chapman was no mere opening act, but rather – to quote Walker – “a fucking God and a big inspiration to us.” 74 years young, Chapman first recorded for the legendary Harvest label in 1969 and has remained an active contributor ever since, much like John Martyn melding folk, jazz and rock into a delightful mélange that defies classification. At the Low Beat it was just Chapman and his acoustic guitar, offering a compelling but too-short set that included “That Time of Night,” “Soulful Lady” the melancholy “Just Another Story” and “Trains.”
RYLEY WALKER SET LIST
The Great & Undecided
Funny Thing She Said
MICHAEL CHAPMAN SET LIST
A Stranger’s Map of Texas > It Ain’t So > Sensimilia
That Time of Night
Just Another Story