Alabamans are famous for a lazy, laconic drawl, a laid-back form of speech that presumably reflects an equally laid-back approach to life. At least that would explain the relaxed, simmering grooves on Ryan Reardon's third outing, cut live in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Ryan's sound owes much to acknowledged influence James Harman, both vocally (there's a strong resemblance) and in his free-flowing and endlessly inventive harmonica work. There's even a hint of Mr. Harman's song writing style in Ryan's compositions, with an equal emphasis on storytelling and the same slightly skewed outlook in several of his originals. Ryan accounts for six of the disc's ten tracks, with co-writing credits going to band members on half of those; covers include Robert Johnson's "Love In Vain," Jr. Wells' "Little By Little," and a tune each by Kim Wilson ("Rock With Me") and Jerry McCain ("Steady," the disc's closer).
Ryan is ably abetted by his Levee Breakers, with long-time guitarist B. A. Bodiford in particular displaying a fine touch; there's a great deal of soul in his support, and he contents himself largely with sympathetic accompaniment, buoying Ryan up with unerring taste. And it's definitely Ryan's show. Favouring a clean, pure tone (much of the time he sounds as though he's playing acoustically), Ryan proves himself an exceptionally expressive player, with an impressive command of nuance and shading. He's a fine singer as well, showing a subtle sense of timing and, again, a finely nuanced phrasing; he's not a shouter, instead delivering each line with a quiet authority that itself is eminently convincing.
There are other live sets out there that cook harder, that burn with more energy; but Ryan and his Levee Breakers aren't about fire or fury. Whether others burn, they smoulder, with taste and impeccable chops taking the place of pyrotechnics. To me it's a sign of musical maturity, and ultimately much more satisfying. This is a disc one can turn to again and again, and both harp players and guitarists are sure to find much to mull over with each successive listen.
A fine outing indeed. Now if we can just get the boys to venture up to Canada, so we long-distance fans can get a live fix . . .
P. O. Box 2742, Birmingham, Alabama 35202
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