Riley Walker


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The Evidence Of Things Unseen (2011), 6.5/10
Of Deathly Premonitions (2011), 6.5/10
All Kinds Of You (2014), 6/10
Primrose Green (2015), 7/10
Golden Sings That Have Been Sung (2016), 6/10
Deafman Glance (2018), 5/10
A Tap On The Shoulder (2021), 6/10
Course In Fable (2021), 5/10
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The singer-songwriter and guitarist Ryley Walker, originally from Chicago but relocated to New York, recorded albums in a jazz-folk style reminiscent of Bert Jansch. He debuted with cassettes such as The Evidence Of Things Unseen (Plustapes, 2011), which contains the eight-minute The Old Cahokia Trace and the solo Louisa My Sunshine in the cheerful pastoral style of Leo Kottke, and Of Deathly Premonitions (Plustapes, 2011), four duets with fellow guitarist Daniel Bachman, including Devil In The Old Dominion (8:39) and The Psychic Parish (9:24).

The album All Kinds Of You (Tompkins Square, 2014), however, contained shorter songs that somehow disappointed, despite the mournful and syncopated ballad The West Wind, the swinging, driving Clear the Sky and the guitar solos Twin Oaks Pt I (a bluegrass breakdown), Twin Oaks Pt II (a meditative John Fahey-esque piece), and another affectionate Leo Kottke-ian vignette, Tanglewood Spaces.

Primrose Green (Dead Oceans, 2015), with a real backing band and a more openly psychedelic mood, is a cerebral work that begins with the soul-tinged ballad Primrose Green with jazzy backing (occasionally reminiscent of the Grateful Dead) and a bit of Tim Buckley-ian vocals. The Buckley element is more prominent in Sweet Satisfaction, where his guitar, buried under a distorted drone, becomes a lesser factor. The instrumental backing is dense and chaotic in Summer Dress, where his passionate crooning evokes Van Morrison. On the Banks of the Old Kishwaukee sounds like a plantation chant with country-rock improvisation. His finger-picking style is best displayed in The High Road, backed by jazz cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm The liquid jamming of Love Can Be Cruel mixes Miles Davis' jazz-rock of the 1970s, David Grisman's "jazzgrass" and Steve Reich-ian minimalist repetition.

Golden Sings That Have Been Sung (Dead Oceans, 2016) is a more conventional country-folk album that contains the eight-minute Age Old Tale, Funny Thing She Said, the pensive folk-rock ballad Roundabout, the sprightly folk romp of The Halfwit In Me but also the six-minute Doors-ian threnody Sullen Mind.

Cannots (Dead Oceans, 2016) and Little Common Twist (Thrill Jockey, 2019) were collaborations with jazz drummer Charles Rumback.

Other collaborations included: Land Of Plenty (Whistler, 2015) with fellow guitarist Bill MacKay, containing It Takes A Quilt (11:37) and Gold Season (8:12); SpiderBeetleBee (Drag City, 2017) with Bill MacKay;

Deafman Glance (Dead Oceans, 2018) indulges in baroque arrangements so that Nate Lepine's flute and saxophone frequently steal the show like in the impressionistic Telluride Speed while Walker's dejected whine sounds like Nick Drake (especially in the anemic In Castle Dome, in the mysterious Can't Ask Why, and in the lugubrious Expired, the trance-y songs). Unfortunately, the album stumbles in more conventional formats, like the cocktail-lounge soul-jazz of 22 Days and the monotonous prog-pop riffing of Spoil With The Rest.

Walker then recorded his own version a famous Dave Matthews Band bootleg, The Lillywhite Sessions (Dead Oceans, 2018).

Flops In New York (2019) contains a 44-minute live improvisation with fellow guitarist Steve Gunn and drummer Ryan Jewell.

Papaya In A Hound's Tooth (Husky Pants, 2020), a collaboration with fellow guitarist Kendra Amalie, contains the nine-minute Coma For Box Truck.

The live album Bozo In Big Smoke (Husky Pants, 2020) contains extended versions of songs from Golden Sings. Deep Fried Grandeur (2021) documents a 2018 concert with Japanese psychedelic rock band Kikagaku Moyo.

After a failed suicide attempt in 2019, Walker got rid of his addiction.

Course In Fable (Husky Pants, 2021) was produced by Tortoise's John McEntire (who also plays electronic keyboards) and the influence of that post-rock school is strong on songs like Striking Down Your Big Premiere and the seven-minute prog-pop ballad A Lenticular Slap. In any case the singing is much more conventional. The highlight is the floating chromatic finger-picking in the seven-minute Pond Scum Ocean. The strings add a neoclassical flavor to Shiva With Dustpan.

A Tap On The Shoulder (Husky Pants, 2021) documents a collaboration with post-rock pioneer Dave Grubbs and contains cerebral duets of deconstructed jazz improvisation, notably Uglification (13:30) and The Madman From Massachusetts In An Empty Bar (7:53). Guitar sounds become pure sound effects in Pump Fake On The Death Rattle (8:26), which seems to mimic the soundtracks of videogames.

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