The Music Box's #5 album for 2001
First Appeared in The Music Box, November 2001, Volume 8, #11
Written by John Metzger
With just two albums under his belt, Matthew Ryan already has become known as one of the finest songwriters to emerge in recent years. Though audiences have been slow to discover him, critics nationwide as well as artists from Steve Earle to Lucinda Williams have sung his praises. After all, there's much to cherish in his heartfelt, honest tales of working class American life and the human experience.
Ryan's latest album Concussion may be his best yet. Its stark, sobering glimpses of reality — not unlike those of Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska, though shades of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan aren't far behind — cut deep with emotion. His lyrics are often simple, painting black and white snapshots of characters that bear the bruises of life's hardships and can barely find the strength to endure. Chickering Angel pits love against a tale of poverty and crime; a claustrophobic cage of addiction cloaks Shake the Tree; and the psychological ramifications of an abusive father tear through Night Watchman.
Ryan has always sculpted his music to enhance the emotional toll of his lyrics, and the songs on Concussion are no exception. More often than not, the sparse instrumentation quietly creeps around the edges of his words, framing them with a raw, overpowering edginess that tears at the listener's heart and soul. Chickering Angel is adorned with a tearful cello accompaniment; a heartbreaking pedal steel guitar glides through Drift; Ryan and Lucinda Williams team up to bring the tatters of a broken love affair to life on Devastation; Ryan's suffocating vocals conjure the desperation of Rabbit; and Autopilot drifts like a world-weary mantra that barely keeps Ryan from collapsing in utter exhaustion.
For certain, these are somber songs, best left for quiet meditation and solitary rumination; songs best heard when life has so badly beaten you that light has become but a pinprick against the black of night. Their intensity is captivating, gripping, and deeply moving, yet it's also a comfort in knowing that things could be worse.
Of Further Interest...
Concussion is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2001 The Music Box