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Ryan Davis & The Roadhouse Band's Dancing On The Edge is a positively glowing triumph

"Dancing On The Edge"

Release date: 14 June 2024
Ryan Davis The Roadhouse Band Dancing On The Edge cover
14 June 2024, 09:00 Written by Janne Oinonen

What’s the difference between patience-testing, mundane monologuing and wryly wise, stream-of-consciousness insight into the human condition?

In case of this remarkable, endlessly rewarding debut from Ryan Davis & The Roadhouse Band, the decisive factor that makes that crucial difference is about three focused listens to the full double album, comprising of seven king-sized cuts that think little of ballooning out beyond seven, eight or even nine minutes.

Amongst other valuable qualities, Davis is striking determinedly against diminishing attention spans and increasing thirst for instant gratification on Dancing On The Edge. Enter in a cherry-picking dabble mode, and the sprawling proceedings can feel like an edit-averse campaign to capture every inconsequential brainfart. Tune in properly and really, really listen, and the line in the sprightly opener "Free From The Guillotine" where Davis bemoans his fate to ‘’waste away in the prison of my passing thoughts'' becomes a clue to the album's spellbinding qualities, instead of an invite for the listener to do the same.

Nodding towards a less gnomically austere Bill Callahan, certainly David Berman of Silver Jews and perhaps also the everyday surrealism of Lambchop's Kurt Wagner in both writerly style and sun-parched yet richly expressive delivery, Davis (who has previously honed his craft with State Champion) emerges here as a genuinely distinctive and idiosyncratically inspired writer. Dancing On The Edge’s free-flowing sagas of internal monologuing, dry aphorisms, agile wordplay and flashes from the lives of contemporary American folks who have wound up as ''busted stitches in the patchwork of the flag" and ''seen sunset…through each and every shade of beer'', pondering everything and nothing in joints where the jukebox will only play Dire Straits MOR mainstay “Sultans of Swing”, balance masterfully and memorably between wry chuckles and downtrodden pathos.

None of the writerly excellence would matter that much if Dancing On The Edge didn't deliver musically. Thankfully, Davis & The Roadhouse Band seem blissfully incapable of sticking to contemporary hip country-rock default settings. Boosted and enriched by the prominent backing vocals of Freakwater's Catherine Irwin and Kentucky-based songwriter Joan Shelley, the rowdier tracks carry a whiff of the Rolling Stones' sublime early 70s sojourns towards manure-splattered dirt roads, amongst other hallowed vintage country-curious pedal steel-botherers (there's a harmony-laden moment on "Learn 2 Re-Luv" that sounds precisely like a rootsy snapshot from a mid-70s Grateful Dead show).

Things get even more compelling when tempos drop, the grip on the steering wheel loosens and pedal steel starts to blend into kosmische keyboards. Perhaps nodding towards Davis's experiences of crafting cosmically inclined instrumental music as part of the hard-to-pronounce improv ensemble Equipment Pointed Ankh, most of the album's latter half percolates on a hypnotic, glistening slow-burn, allowing the music room to breathe and cultivate an idiosyncratic and highly effective hybrid of earthy roots music and cosmic doodling, hitting a pinnacle (in the context of an album where every track is a highlight) with the gently motorik glide and hauntingly pretty refrains of the nine minute plus epic “A Suitable Exit”, including some of the album’s most striking imagery and killer lines ala ‘’I never asked to be born/I was only wondering where the door went to’’.

Dancing On The Edge, then, is that rarest of beasts: an album where lyrical brilliance is backed by an equal devotion to open-eared musical adventurousness. The result is a masterpiece and a cult classic in the making: allow it an opportunity to bloom, and you, too, may end up with the mundane daily grind being interrupted at random times by flashes of select moments from the album projected on your brain, like extremely welcome and entertaining uninvited guests.

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