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"All Kinds of You"

Release date: 07 April 2014
8/10
Ryley Walker – All Kinds of You
10 April 2014, 12:30 Written by Janne Oinonen
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Some records step bravely into the unknown. Others gaze longingly at selected gilded aspects of the past. Ryley Walker’s first album proper after a series of self-released CD-Rs and tapes and other assorted obscurities belongs firmly in the latter category. So firmly, in fact, that it may make you doubt whether your calendar shouldn’t be open on, say, 1969 rather than 2014. Taken in on a bad day, you might even wonder whether albums like All Kinds of You mark the point where musicians have given up on the troublesome uncertainties of exploring new sounds in favour of pitching their tent on well-charted territory, and whether the limited reserves of genuinely original ideas have now been totally exhausted.

Such negative impressions won’t last, however. From the subtly The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan-flavoured slushy, grey vibes of the cover art onwards, All Kinds of You is undeniably a deeply retro offering. Much as, say, Dungen and Unknown Mortal Orchestra have managed to locate fresh angles to much-sampled psych-rock templates, however, Walker mixes and matches various oft-referenced folk-rock (and just plain folk) styles until they become if not totally fresh, then at the very least refreshing.

The album’s title is certainly apt, as there’s more than version of the 24-year Chicago-based singer-guitarist on offer here. It’s hard to believe Walker only relative recently swapped to pastoral acoustic settings after a grounding in Chicago’s free/noise scene, such is the surefooted grace of solo instrumentals such as “Twin Oaks Pt. 2″, which nod towards the nimble-fingered yet relentlessly percussive ‘American primitive’ roots guitar tradition of John Fahey et al.

These days, this sort of stuff is habitually referred to as psych-folk, but much of the album stays too close to roots and the soil to bother with mind-expanding flights of fancy. For example, the romantic yearning – fiddle to the fore – of “Blessings” hints at an appreciation of the perpetually overcast British folk tradition exemplified by Bert Jansch, whilst “Clear The Sky”‘s easy-rolling bounce could come off a pre-slurring early John Martyn record, with a cello-slathered coda straight out of Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter.

Impressive as all this is, it pales next to the opener “The West Wind”; a sprawling, restlessly see-sawing sea shanty with a free-form ending that speaks volumes about Walker’s deep appreciation of jazz-fuelled exploration, closer to the wild and free wailing of the most out-there Tim Buckley albums – even if Walker isn’t quite a vocal colossus of that calibre – than standard-issue neo-folk fingerpicking. It’s the one jaw-dropping moment on a consistently great record.

In a way that demonstrates how the fortunes of different genres fluctuate over the years, Walker’s sound may well be hipper now – thanks in no part to such wizards of acoustic guitar as William Tyler and Steve Gunn – than it ever was when his influences put in their years of active duty. All Kinds of You is good enough to be cited as one of the notable records of the ongoing odd-folk revival when this stuff eventually gets another look-in in a few decades’ time, with peaks that suggest there are even more interesting things to come from Walker.

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