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States, Ryan: Strange Town

The journey that Ryan States has under taken to release his debut album Strange Town involves jobs as varied as being a bouncer at a lesbian night club, lawn mowing and the mandatory McJob at a fast food joint near you. So how he has fitted all that round being a musician in Ringling Brothers Circus Band, performing songs for musicals and putting on shows for the rich and famous is beyond me. Strange Town was put together mainly by Ryan himself, although around a dozen others contributed at some stage, and unusually a large proportion of the music was recorded in train yards between stops with the circus (I'm not making this up honestly) and possibly due to this the whole album definitely feels like you are accompanying Ryan on a journey through his life. Undoubtedly the fact that he views his debut as a "coming out" album means that this is a remarkably personal set of songs with subjects like married men coming on to him (I'll Give You (What You Want)), or his "coming out" song Better (When You're Older), however they are presented in such a charming musical setting, even if you can't relate to the lyrical content, it's difficult not to be moved by the sparsely sympathetic arrangements and the 80's feel pop rock that evokes everything from Jackson Browne to Julian Lennon.

States is a talented wordsmith and other topics covered on the album range from his moving from Middle America to The Big Apple, his gentle view on his religious past, or the uplifting "I Will Find My Way". Ryan himself is a fine guitarist and his piano playing adds colour to the songs in the way that Elton John used to, instead of dominating the music he uses his keyboard skills to punctuate the gentle beats and themes to great effect. The best examples of his guitar prowess comes during "I Will Find My Way" where a swaying solo mingles with some slide work that gives a vaguely Neil Young vibe or "I'll Give You (What You Want), where he peels of an unexpectedly bluesy solo that is as welcome as it was surprising.

Taken as a whole this album can begin to have a downbeat feel, as the pace is a little tame and restrained across most of the tracks, however once you give the songs time to sink in, the little sparks of hope that blaze during the piano motif on "How Do You Know (You're In Love)" or the beautiful vocal harmonies of "Under The Bridge" offset the intentional melancholy perfectly. Strange Town is a maturely constructed collection of musical and lyrical thoughts that lock together like a jigsaw to reveal a bigger picture that retains the listening interest through interesting vocal arrangements, the odd touch of horns and some accessible musical themes that feel warmly familiar, without sounding ripped off. Not the happiest album you'll ever come across, but all the better for it.

Track Listing
1. I will Find My Way
2. Immigrant (Fish Out Of Water)
3. In The Game
4. Never Forget (9/11/02)
5. Under The River
6. I Am A Comet
7. Planet Earth
8. Better (When You're Older)
9. I'll Give You (What You Want)
10. How Do You Know (You're In Love?)
11. I Won't Walk Away

Added: April 24th 2010
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Related Link: Artist's Web Site
Hits: 2572
Language: english

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