It is less than 12 months ago that the Chicago musician and guitar wunderkid Ryley Walker released his debut album "All Kinds of You". This record was a musical stake in the ground announcing a huge talent who could tap prime sources like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn yet make music that ticked all the boxes for a modern audience. This follow up album "Primrose Green" sees Walker breath out and particularly start to reference great songwriters like Tim Buckley and John Martyn. In doing so we see the development of his expressionist vocal style and emerging proof that despite all the obvious influences at play Walker is incrementally moving onto his own ground and will be a major force in modern music.
"Primrose Green" starts with gusto on the exuberant title track with its clear 60s vibe. Behind Walker are a set of seasoned Chicago jazz musicians who colour in all the relevant shades across the this album not least the wonders of double bassist Anton Hatwich. Nowhere is this more evident than on the standout "Summer Dress" which harks back to the fusion of folk, blues and jazz that owes a debt to Tim Buckley's "Starsailor". The rolling guitar motif of "Same minds" is well executed while "Griffiths Buck's Blues" will have any technical guitarists scratching their heads in wonder. There are echoes of Nick Drake on the jazzy ballad "Love can be cruel" while another standout "On the banks of the old Kishwaukee" introduces summer sunshine into proceedings. Walker also lets rip on electric guitar on the powerful "Sweet Satisfaction" a song, which could point the way ahead for a new direction in for his music, although it does echo John Martyn's "I'd rather be the devil". Finally the acoustic strum of "Hide in the Roses" brings gentle closure to proceedings with Walkers expressive vocals sounding almost British in origin.
Ryley Walker is not as yet the finished product and is still seeking his own "sound". Accusations could be levelled of him that he could tip over into derivative territory if he continues to plunder these influences. Equally his lyrics do not always match the wonders of the music. And yet there is promise on this sophomore album in overflowing abundance. "Primrose Green" is an exceedingly fine piece of music by musicians who love to ply their trade. When all the mighty forces link together for Ryley Walker he will be unstoppable.
Review by Red on Black