Ryley Walker is a young man in a hurry, no question. Barely six months after the release of his second album Primrose Green, hailed by many critics as one of the finest of the year to date, the 25 year old from Chicago has publicly dismissed the album, declaring that he hates it and is already working on material for his next offering which better reflects where he is musically positioned at present.
His previous appearance at Whelans less than nine months ago attracted only a handful of punters so it is testament to his recent exposure that the same venue is packed on probably the most humid night of the summer.
Bearing in mind Walker’s reputation for spontaneity it is not surprising that the evenings show is somewhat unstructured. Punters expecting the customary twenty minute support act, twenty minute wait and seventy minute main act with two encores were always going to be disappointed.
Instead what is on offer is two support acts by artists that Walker declared to be some of his best friends. Following on is a set with Walker and a pick up band comprising bass, drums and guitar and completing the evening is Walker’s solo slot. Both support acts, Brigid Power-Rice and the Cian Nugent Band are well received before Walker takes the stage shortly after 10pm.
Despite his stated reluctance to playing any material from Primrose Green his opener is a twelve minute free flowing version of the title track, transforming the four minute album version into a mesmerising jam, accompanied by bass, drums and Cian Nugent on guitar.
"Jeez, this is my favourite place and people on earth, had my first plunge in the Irish Sea this morning at The Vico with a bunch of naked old men" he comments before launching into an equally experimental and extended take on On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee also from the Primrose Green album, without in any way detracting from the beauty of the song.
The band then leave the stage and Walker reminds the crowd that this is in fact a solo show and proceeds to play, superbly it has to be said, a succession of songs he intends recording on his third album to be released in March of next year.
The venue is more suitable for less crowded and more intimate gigs. The size of the attendance, inability for punters at the back of the venue to see the stage and the late start, inevitably results in the alcohol fuelled minority having a preference for loud chatter rather than listening to the act. After a few vocal exchanges among the crowd the offenders eventually get the message and retire to the bar to allow the rest of us hear and enjoy the solo section of the gig.
The material for the forthcoming album is particularly impressive with the guitar playing and vocal by Walker stunning. The first song is credited by him as his Fuck Donald Trump song and certainly the newer material contains more aggression and anger than that of the reflective nature of much of his early work.
Mellower material follows including a beautiful cover of Tim Hardin’s If I Were a Carpenter and an untitled but equally well received instrumental. Walker finishes with another untitled song from the forthcoming album completing the short sixty minute set by simply saying "that’s all I’ve got folks" and ending without an encore.
Walker’s impatience and intensity on stage is that of a restless artist to whom the next challenge cannot come quick enough. A slight delay while retuning leads to an angry mutter of "this guitar’s a heap of shit" while attempting to correct the issue. In direct contrast his off stage manner before and after the gig could not be more charming and friendly as he mingles with friends and punters
Comparisons in the media to John Martyn, John Fahey, Nick Drake, Tim Buckley and even a young Van Morrison may, or may not, be premature at this early stage in Walker’s career. What is undeniable is his talent as a song writer, vocalist and guitar player, so evident in flashes this evening. Hopefully this potential will be fully realised going forward in whichever direction it evolves. If so, the sky is the limit for Kyley Walker.
Review and photograph by Declan Culliton