Ryley Walker has walked an interesting musical path since his last solo release of Deafman Glance in 2018 but more importantly he is celebrating a new beginning of sorts in 2021 with sobriety after a long time of addiction and a suicide attempt in 2019. Musically, he released a cover record of Dave Matthews Band’s The Lillywhite Sessions in 2018, had another instrumental record with jazz musician Charles Rumback in 2019 called Little Common Twist and then released the excellent jam record with Kikagaku Moyo earlier this year in Deep Fried Grandeur. That is a very eclectic tour especially when you consider that his 2015 album, Primrose Green, was mostly built around a 70’s folk singer/songwriter sound.
Walker’s fifth solo album Course In Fable could take us anywhere but now with a new appreciation and look on life this album actually feels like a natural progression right down to the cover art. Walker comes off here masterful at his trade as he shows off his guitar skills with song arrangements that are artful, prog like, psychedelic and back to the basics from his earlier years. Course In Fable is a record that successfully takes what has made Walker the artist he is today and uses those experiences to create an album that is one of his best to date.
He has a couple tracks here that push by the 7 minute mark which give plenty of canvas to work but the 5 minute runtime is his sweet spot for songs on Course In Fable. The opening “Striking Down Your Big Premiere” has so many excellent twists and turns with Walker’s confident vocals steering the song. “Clad With Bunk” is one of my favorite songs as it has such a smooth and polite open but then its last two minutes changes the tempo and rocks out. It is a seamless transition in the song that is effortless and confident which sums up most of the album. When you add in the excellent guitar work from the talented Bill MacKay, drumming of Ryan Jewell and producer/engineer John McEntire (Tortoise, the Sea and Cake) this record is as technically sound as you could want.
A new look on life can always be the catalyst for something special. Clearly, we can all celebrate that Walker is still with us. Not only is he producing high level output but you can hear the healing on every track. Gone is the overall dark tone that surrounded Deafman Glance and in its place the guitar strums bring enlightenment and exciting anticipation for what is next. Course In Fable is still only scratching the surface of Ryley Walker and keep listening because he has plenty more to play and say!
Key Tracks: “Striking Down Your Big Premiere” / “Clad With Bunk” / “Shiva With Dustpan”
Artists With Similar Fire: William Tyler / Steve Gunn / Kevin Morby
-Reviewed by Christopher Anthony