BY MICHAEL TOLAND
There’s considerable danger in frontloading a critical assessment of an artist’s work with comparisons to innovative ancestors, but it can also be impossible to deny. Considering how few young musicians pay attention to the spirits called up by Ryley Walker on Primrose Green, it’s also not always a bad thing. The young Chicago guitarist keeps digging into the rich John Martyn/Bert Jansch/Michael Chapman loam of his first album All Kinds of You and adds dollops of American iconoclast Tim Buckley, masterfully blending the modal fingerpicking of the former with the swooping vocal beauty of the latter.
The result is both earthy and mystical, with electric pianos, woody bass and swinging cymbals providing a backdrop for his soulful tenor, swirling guitar work and neoretro folk tunes. Check the track “Sweet Satisfaction,” on which Walker combines Buckley’s otherwordly keen with a jazzy blues chicka-chick straight from the Martyn wheelhouse, then adds a fuzz-soaked guitar solo and a driving all-hands freak-out at the end. Or consider “Love Can Be So Cruel,” a brooding cautionary tale that coasts on a jazzy keyboard interlude undercut by smoldering guitar feedback. Or the stripped-down, album-closing “Hide in the Roses,” which brings the ancient past into the 21st century by eschewing both needless sonic updates or slavish nostalgia. Or the shimmering title track, on which his probing singing and circular guitar figures ride busy acoustic bass and percolating drums gently home.
Working with a cast of Chicago jazz, improv and experimental luminaries and newcomers, Walker casts a most enchanting spell on Primrose Green, and while it may reflect his influences more than spell out his vision, the love he bears for those influences comes through in every plucked and sung note.
DOWNLOAD: “Sweet Satisfaction,” “Primrose Green” “Love Can Be So Cruel”