Whether hailed as the heir of folk jazz legends Tim Buckley and John Martyn or touted as the leader of the new generation of Cosmic Americana acts, there’s a weight of expectation on Ryley Walker’s shoulders. And there’s enough on the bewilderingly named Golden Sings That Have Been Sung to suggest the 27-year-old Illinoisan could be worth the buzz.
Opener ‘The Halfwit In Me’ bounds and tumbles from the speakers, acoustic guitar circling Walker’s vocals, it’s wide-eyed vibe in an Astral Weeks vein. The pace calms on the brooding ‘A Choir Apart’, a terse track packed with religious imagery and clipped rhythms. Walker unwinds again on ‘Funny Thing She Said’ and ‘Sullen Mind’ which both stretch past six minutes. The former is a bluesy, smoky affair with skulking strings and electric guitar. The latter builds and crashes discordantly, the protagonist picking fights “cast in a corner bar” as the mood darkens, before the song bursts into frantic psychedelic folk as “the speed is kicking in.”
The density of Walker’s craft calls for air at times. So, it’s a relief when the record’s sweetest track, the two-minute ‘I Will Ask You Twice’, breezes in earnestly. Equally beguiling is the wry, barroom warmth of ‘Roundabout’ on which Walker jokes: “I think my Dad wanted a daughter”. Walker’s an outstanding guitarist playing with accomplished musicians who can sprinkle star-speckled magic, none more so than when they lock into a lilting, loose groove on ‘The Great And Undecided’.’
Golden Sings…. is an intriguing taste of a songwriter who is not yet the finished article; there’s a sense that Walker is trying to nail his defining style. By turns sprawling and enchanting, it’s a good place to get in on an artist feeling their way towards importance.
Words: Pete Bate