Album review: Ryley Walker, ‘Primrose Green,’ nimble fingerpicking

Ryley Walker’s sophomore album “Primrose Green” is a luxuriant work that has the Chicago native transplanting the seeds of 1960s-era British folk and jazz and growing it into his own secret garden.

Riley Walker Green Primrose GreenWalker certainly has reverence for the folk emitting from the British Isles in the 1960s and the mystical sounds of Bert Jansch, Van Morrison and Nick Drake are evident throughout the album. Walker’s fingerpicking is nimble like Drake’s and Jansch’s and is at its most fervent on the instrumental “Griffiths Bucks Blues.” And while his lyrics and quality of voice aren’t near that of “Van the Man,” Walker’s singing is as passionate and prone to note bending, like in the earthy electricity of “Summer Dress.”

Like his idols, Walker creates dramatic soundscapes that are big and enticing enough to draw people in to explore. Many songs in music are neatly built upon a hook or melody, but Walker draws his music out to let it grow like vines and grasses around a cottage nestled in a briar. Walker’s voice is an afterthought on the title track for a full minute as the piano, drums, guitar and bass mingle with each other in an lush jam that progresses as Walker’s voice fades out.

The combination of folk instrumentation and jazz’s sensibility to let the music find its own path can lead to transcendent moments, like on the relaxed “On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee.” The song is built around a sweet guitar ditty and the extended musical outro takes the listener on a pleasant journey along the river’s banks rather than just snapping a picture. “Sweet Satisfaction” is the most charging song on the album and the best example of what is possible when Walker lets the music take the lead. It begins with an acoustic strut from Walker and the drums and electric guitar match his voice’s intensity increases. Suddenly the song takes off in folk-metal jam and reaches a fever pitch of whirling guitar and drums before cutting out.

“Primrose Green” feels like a throwback to a different era and as Walker continues to produce albums, hopefully he can build upon his sound rather than just looking back for inspiration.

  • Ryley Walker
    “Primrose Green”
    Label: Dead Oceans
    Release: March 31, 2015
    Notable Tracks: “Primrose Green,” “Sweet Satisfaction,” “On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee”
    Purchase: LINK

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