East Autumn Grin
First Appeared in The Music Box, October 2000, Volume 7, #10
Written by John Metzger
After the release of Matthew Ryan's debut album May Day, critics quickly compared his songwriting skills with those of Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, and Leonard Cohen. Being placed in such lofty company is enough to swell the head of any young artist, and it can certainly make future recording efforts a chore to create. Thankfully, on his sophomore effort East Autumn Grin, Ryan managed to overcome these obstacles, transcend the pressure, and keep his reputation intact.
In the three years that have passed between his two albums, Ryan has matured, allowing him to convey an even wider spectrum of emotions through his songs. His bleak outlook has mellowed a bit, allowing small rays of light (I Hear a Symphony, Time and Time Only) to shine through the darkness that has typically pervaded his work.
Make no mistake, however, Ryan still bears the weight of the world on his shoulders. Even as he proclaims on Time and Time Only that "this love is stronger than any that has past," he feels compelled to thrust it into self-doubt and tender reflection. On The World is on Fire, Ryan turns outward, tearing into the very fabric of the America that surrounds him with a scathing indictment of the country's violent tendencies.
Musically, East Autumn Grin is a bit more polished than May Day, but that doesn't make it any less potent. This time around, Ryan paints a larger sonic canvas to frame his songs. Elements of Dylan, Springsteen, Waits, and Tom Petty still run rampant in his songs, but so do more contemporary artists like Wilco (Me and My Lover) and U2 (3rd of October).
In fact, there are many comparisons to be made with Wilco's magnificent Summerteeth album. It's as if Ryan absorbed it, digested it, and molded it into his own image. He uses similar stereophonic effects to gently texture his songs, and he allows a myriad of influences to find a home within his music. Similarly, he draws connections between life and love in America with such personal introspection that it is impossible not to be moved as he builds a universal emotional bridge to his audience.
Initially, critical praise for Ryan's debut was so widespread, it was easy for a cynical public to be skeptical. Anytime comparisons are made with Dylan, Springsteen, and Waits, one simply must question the hype. However, with the release of East Autumn Grin, Ryan has clearly put this issue to rest. Though he's yet to create a masterpiece, he's getting awfully close, and at the age of 28, time is surely on his side.
Of Further Interest...
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2000 The Music Box