Without a unique creative voice, even the most skilled guitarist and singer can struggle; that’s arguably been the case with Illinois singer and songwriter Ryley Walker up to now. The guitarist is without doubt supremely talented, yet his debut album, 2014’s All Kinds Of You, and last year’s follow-up, Primrose Green, appeared too slavishly in awe of Bert Jansch, John Martyn and Tim Buckley to be able to match the triumphs of Walker’s heroes.
The 26-year-old’s third album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, however, sees him step out from the shadows of his primary influences and craft a suite-like set of music that shows off his own goofy personality. “I’d buy you a drink but my credit is quite shit/We can all laugh and have tap water,” he wryly croons on The Roundabout, while the opening track, The Halfwit In Me, takes on a self-deprecating style reminiscent of much of Jim O’Rourke’s Insignificance. “Your lips taste like honey, but I know you’re drinking wine,” he sings on Funny Thing She Said, slyly subverting a cliché that he would have run with on his previous records.
Musically, Walker has added the sound of Chicago’s jazz-tinged post-rock scene (see Sam Prekop’s excellent solo debut, produced by O’Rourke in 1999, for comparison, or Tortoise’s more organic creations) to his earlier folk influences, conjuring up a heady, infectious mix of acoustic guitar, woody Rhodes piano, distant electric guitar and jazzy drums and bass. Ably produced and part-arranged by former Wilco keyboardist LeRoy Bach, Golden Sings’ impressive highlights, such as A Choir Apart – all skittering toms and distorted organ drones – and Sullen Mind – a mournful ballad which erupts into flourishes of free-jazz cacophony – finally take Walker some way towards the heights of his idols.