My review originally appeared in the Hastings Independent 18/8/16
Although originally billed as a collaboration with legendary folk-rock double bass supremo, Danny Thompson, Thompson has had to pull out of this short tour due to illness. However, this did not prevent the young guitarist and singer-songwriter, Ryley Walker, from delivering a spellbinding performance at St Mary in the Castle. As the promotional blurb for the gig put it, someone who “plays guitar like Bert Jansch and sings like Tim Buckley” should not struggle to draw a supportive audience; and so it proved. 27 year-old Walker, from Illinois, is an exceptional acoustic guitarist, very much influenced by 60s/70s artists like the aforementioned Jansch and Buckley as well as the likes of Davey Graham and John Martyn.
The audience (absolutely typical for a folk/acoustic style gig of this type) is composed overwhelmingly of sixty-something baby-boomers and twenty-something millennials. Those of us in our forties and early fifties, like myself, are mainly notable by our absence. We are truly the lost generation as far as music like this goes. This is our collective loss I suppose; but it’s encouraging that the generation below us are picking up the baton, both as audiences and as performers, as the supremely talented Mr Walker exemplifies. A powerful songwriter and a talented musician with a distinctive voice, he’s not afraid to work across genres and thus brings a range of musical influences into his performance, from indie folk, to jazz to blues through to rock and psychedelia.
It is arguable that the acoustics in this cavernous, iconic former church, and perhaps the atmosphere itself, tend to make it work better for folk acts than for rock bands. This gig is far from a gentle, relaxed strum-along though. It’s an incendiary performance with his two band-mates providing throbbing electric bass and wonderfully atmospheric, powerful drumming that throbbed, crashed and reverberated throughout the venue all night. They complement the guitarist perfectly and it makes for a more intense interpretation of his songs in comparison to his two excellent and well-received solo albums, but that’s all part of the excitement of live performance. There is light and shade and definite changes of tempo during the course of the evening, however. The Davey Graham/Bert Jansch guitar influence particularly shines through on the gentler, more laid-back tunes, where Walker is able to simultaneously coax hypnotic rhythms and beautiful intricate melodies out of his instrument.
“Wow. That was very intense, bordering on psychedelic,” concluded the two women sitting next to me when I asked them what they thought at the end of the night. I wouldn’t disagree at all. Two albums into his career, Ryley Walker is showing exceptional promise.
[Note: since this review Ryley’s third album has now been released. More details on his website below]