Starting his musical career behind the console, recording and mixing albums for other bands, Andrew Ryan has evolved into a multi-instrumentalist alt-country frontman, tackling the singing, songwriting and much of the playing on his first album, Across Currents. It’s an admirable debut for a musician with more time behind a drum kit and a production console than with his voice in the limelight, though there is still some clear room for growth.
Album opener “9th Street” is a strong starter, riding a nice melody fleshed out by strings and piano. The song recalls Springsteen’s folkier work, and highlights where Ryan’s composition strengths are. Other songs on the album like “Gwyneth” and the emotional “Out of My Head”, which rely on acoustic guitars and more traditional folk/country instrumentation, coalesce best. That’s not to say Ryan doesn’t know his way around an electric guitar. One of the best tracks on Across Currents is “City Lights”, which features a ripping guitar line and a solemn ending as Ryan sings “Yeah I’ll go away. Just go away.”
Speaking of Ryan’s singing, there are clear limits to Ryan’s vocal range. Unlike a someone like Ryan Adams, who can ring out a tidal wave of emotion from a single note, Andrew Ryan‘s usually hushed delivery feels more akin to Stephen Malkmus (“Ain’t it Obvious” could be an alt-country outtake from a lost Pavement album). The problem with that steady, dispassionate style is the vocals are easily drowned out (“Marigolds”) or keep a midtempo tune feeling flat (“Disingenuous”).
In this case, “Lake Effect” is a good example of what Ryan could focus on as he continues to grow as a musician. Incorporating fiddle and electric guitar and a bigger, dynamic chorus, Ryan allows more dirt and grit into the track, which melds better with his voice. It also works on the indie-folk “Take Aim”, as Ryan sings with an aloof grace “I take aim on everyone and everything”, smartly countering the tune’s darker undercurrent.
“Caladiums” maintains a country heart, with honest, melancholy lyrics “All I could think of was you, but all I could care for was me”. The harmonica intro and glockenspiel bring some warmth to the song, which I found myself wanting more of on other tracks on the album. But, hearing closer “Fire”, which is reminiscent of Lucero‘s older work, Ryan seems like he may find more comfort moving further towards rock and leaving the country behind.
Whatever direction Ryan’s future work takes him in, as long as he continue to hone his songwriting craft, someone with as much musical acumen as he has will certainly only become a more impressive artist in time.