Golden Sings That Have Been Sung is Ryley Walker’s third solo album in as many years and is a portrait of an artist in transition. Previous albums such as 2015’s Primrose Green, or Land Of Plenty, his collaboration with Bill McKay from the same year, have focused on his prowess in acoustic guitar playing in the vein of John Fahey or Bert Jansch. The songs on his new LP push his vocals to the fore more than his past work and the outcome is mixed as a result.
Album opener ‘The Halfwit In Me’ is instrumentally lush and ambitious in arrangement, bringing to mind the work of Jim O’Rourke (who also transitioned from acoustic fingerpicking on Bad Timing to his later, more diverse work on Eureka and Insignificance.) The track jumps through its multiple movements with ease, never dragging and feels shorter than its almost six minute run time.
‘A Choir Apart’ follows and the mood darkens, much of the song riding on an insistent drumbeat and moody double bass melody. Walker’s voice is mannered here, as it is for much of the rest of the album. Some of the rhyme schemes feel obvious, rhyming “Leather” and “Weather”, “Night” and “Light” but this is a small quibble.
‘Funny Thing She Said’, on the other hand, is where the album begins to drag. With its slow tempo and occasionally clichéd lyrics. ‘Sullen Mind’ is similar in tone and while the pace does pick up with an almost raga-like section towards the end of the song it never really seems to take off.
‘I Will Ask You Twice’ is troubled from its beginning by poor lyrical choices, the line “I played footsie with Jesus” being a particular standout. ‘The Roundabout’ too suffers from this problem, “And I’d buy you a drink but my credit is shit/We can all have tapwater” being the primary culprit.
Walker is a captivating live performer and many of these recordings don’t capture this element of his personality. It’s interesting to note that the deluxe edition of this album includes an almost forty minute live recording of ‘Sullen Mind’ that shows Walker and his band improvising around the song with ease, along with Walker himself singing with more passion than is evident on the album proper.
His choice to highlight his singing in such a mannered way, along with the slow tempos of the songs and informal nature of the lyrics, hobbles this album. While there’s lot to admire in terms of instrumentation and arrangements, there’s also much to be desired in terms of delivery of these songs. Let’s hope that this is a transitional piece of work that leads to better things from Walker.