Ryan McGarvey Stands At The Crossroads, Avoids Sophomore Album Blues On 'Redefin
Some may question the wisdom and rationale of taking five years before releasing a follow-up
to a critically acclaimed debut album. Especially when said album, although widely respected
was not, in this day and age of manufactured pop stars and divas - a charting album. Some
might even say, "Boy you're a stone cold fool"...and, in most cases they would be right.
However, that's precisely what 25 year old Albuquerque based blues rock guitarist Ryan
McGarvey did between the release of 2007's 'Forward In Reverse' and 2012's long awaited
sophomore album, the aptly titled 'Redefined'. Whether or not some may question the
motives, the time and effort were obviously worth it. For with this release, McGarvey states a very strong musical case to be ranked amongst the finest in the as of late burgeoning blues
rock scene, alongside such well established powerhouses such as Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Walter Trout and Philip Sayce.
From the opening notes of the album's lead off track, "All The Little Things", you positively get the sense that you are in for a very special ride. Commencing with delicately picked acoustic
guitar notes, the track soon bursts wide open with an acoustic rhythm which is a musical cousin to Kenny Wayne Shepherd's "Blue On Black", only harder edged. Layered guitars give way to short bursts of nimble fingered lead work before building to a crescendo of power chords to end the track.
"Never Seem To Learn" is more of a straight ahead riff rocker which takes him out of the
blues rock realm for a spell. Which is maintained on the next track, "My Sweet Angel" - its
repeated guitar motif driving the song along before metamorphosising into a full blown
hard rocker, the high production values adding to the overall effect of the song.
"Starry Night" begins with Hendrix by way of Eric Johnson influenced licks, but quickly morphs
into a rocking mode that Eric rarely visits. Featuring a Bonamassa-esque guitar solo, the track is certainly one of many highlights on the disc.
"Blues Knockin' At My Door" is one of the rare straight ahead blues rockers on the album. McGarvey shines on slide here, capturing the right amount of grittiness to push the song through convincingly.
"Prove Myself" is a prime slice of funk- blues, which is much funkier than a white boy from
Albuquerque has any right to be. On top of a slinky, pulsing, grooving rhythm courtesy of
bassist Sam Miller and drummer August Johnson, McGarvey builds the track from smoldering
to the point where finally when he solos he literally explodes, resulting in an exhilerating guitar experience. One of the definite highlights of this disc, it's a clear demonstration of the
instrumental prowess which led him to be chosen out of hundreds of entrants to appear at Eric
Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2010.
The next track "Blue Morning Night" might at first listen appear to be somewhat of a letdown
in comparison, but it's only side by side with the previous song where it may appear such.
Taken on its own, it is a fine composition which by the time the guitar solo appears has
redeemed itself quite nicely.
"So Close To Heaven", quite possibly the best embodiment song-wise McGarvey has written
thus far follows. In terms of overall mood, featuring guitar lines which seemingly fall from the sky,it contains a majestic, soaring solo which has to be the best he has put forth on record as yet. Relatively brief, it shows economy and power in its phrasing and demonstrates his
impressive ability to build drama in what he plays, and takes the song to another level,
The straight ahead, uptempo rocker "Downright Insane" is next. Once again, compared to the
previous track it's bound to be a bit of a comedown, but overall it's not a bad track, just not
up to the standard set previously. It does contain a fiery guitar solo at mid point which
elevates it to the more than listenable category, and at a little over two and half minutes it
does pass rather quickly.
The bluesy "Pennies" returns the album to memorable phase. Over a slow, steady groove,
McGarvey impresses both vocally and guitar-wise. Featuring yet another very dazzling solo ,
it also shows he can play deep in the pocket when necessary.
The album ends on a high note with the instrumental acoustic guitar piece "Four Graces".
Featuring blindingly fast fingerpicking, it's bound to draw comparisons to Joe Bonamassa's
"Woke Up Dreaming". The fact that it can hold its own against that composition speaks
volumes concerning the quality of the fretwork on display, and if there be any doubts prior
regarding the talent McGarvey possesses as a player, this proves it so in a convincing fashion.
Production on the album is absolutely stellar. Recorded and mixed at Santa Fe, New Mexico's
Frogville Studios by McGarvey and Bill Palmer, subsequently mastered to perfection by Brian
Lucey (The Black Keys, Dr. John, Oli Brown, The Shins) the sound is top notch all the way
through. Much more a full fledged rock rather than a typical blues album production, the bass
is punchy yet still retaining instrument definition. Dense but at the same time articulate, this
is a release which should be listened to on a high end stereo system rather than earbuds on an iPod or cheap computer speakers in order to truly appreciate the tonal qualities and sonic
nuances on display.
Quickly becoming one of the most adept practitioners of the genre, McGarvey's brand of
uncompromising high-octane guitar driven Blues-Rock, combined with extremely strong
songwriting and evocative lyrics are certain to have him favorably compared with the greats.
Only time will tell whether this album will be considered a classic or not - but one thing is
certain : In a year which has already seen fine releases from Lance Lopez, Walter Trout, Oli
Brown, Philip Sayce etc. and will soon see yet another release by Joe Bonamassa, 'Redefined' is sure to rank amongst the top albums of the year.
As guitar wizard Chris Duarte recently voiced from the stage after jamming with McGarvey,
"He's the next young lion out there. He's the total package, and it's not going to be long".
Based on the evidence presented on this album, that time is now. Highly recommended