The first time I heard Matthew Ryan was just before Christmas 1997. I found his debut disc, May Day, and was instantly smitten. Ryan’s gravelly voice was reminiscent of Tom Waits, his guitar suggested Bruce Springsteen, but his words and music were wholly his own, and they floored me in a way that few acts ever had before or have since.
It was the quietly devastating songs that moved me most, the way he seemed consigned to his fate on songs like “Certainly, never.” But Matthew Ryan could light up a guitar too, and his rocking songs were just as good.
Sadly, me and the many, many fans across the country who felt the same weren’t enough to keep him in high cotton at A&M Records, and he was dropped by the label after his second disc East Autumn Grin failed to capture a wide audience upon its release in 2000, despite being one of his best releases ever.
Many artists might have just given up. But he kept making music, kept moving down the road. And I know I’m not the only person who is thankful that he did.
Why? Because Matthew’s music is the stuff that mixtapes were made of. Way back in the days before iPods and mp3’s, the mixtape was a sonic poem, a way to give sound and fury and pain to the feelings tugging at your heart, whether driving fast down a two-lane blacktop at night or sitting alone in your house on the couch after a bad break-up, crying.
I peppered so many tapes and, later, CDs, with his songs – whether rollicking rockers like “Guilty” and “Heartache Weather” or somber laments like “Time and Time Only” and “Irrelevant.” His songs always seemed to fill the pivotal slot on the mixtape rotation, that special place that you wanted a kick-ass song to come in and just lift your spirits and perfectly capture the hurt in your heart.
Even though cassette tapes have long since passed, in the advent of this digital age, I am happy to report that Ryan is an accessible artist who has embraced the 21st century. He’s an avid tweeter who personally interacts with fans on social media, whether Twitter or Facebook. He’s a funny guy, too. Genuine and real.
i recall standing as though nothing could fall is vintage Matthew Ryan. Like each of the efforts that preceded it, the disc has its share of up-tempo, guitar-driven tracks (a personal favorite being, “All Hail the Kings of Trash”) and slower ballads and plaintive portraits of life and love left reeling and trying to recover (“Hey Kid,” “All of That Means Nothing,” “My Darker Side”).
See, that’s the thing that distinguishes him from other singer-songwriting troubadours. Matthew Ryan makes desolation, desperation and despair sound good.
That downtrodden resignation reigned supreme on his early work. It lessened a bit in the mid-2000’s only to return for the double-punch of 2009’s Dear Lover and 2010’s Dear Lover (The Acoustic Version).
And upon first listen to i recall, he still struggles with the darkness that might destroy a lesser soul. But amid the worry, a theme seems to appear. Instead of provoking an incident, Matthew Ryan is now forging alliances. He wants to negate war and broker peace, however tremulous that peace might prove to be.
Here’s hoping even if that peace proves fleeting, Matthew’s music won’t ever stop flowing forth.