If lofty comparisons are preludes to insurmountable expectations, then Matthew Ryan has an Everest to climb. Whether it is a gift or some unfortunate curse, his voice is an inescapable echo of a certain marble-jived, father of a wallflower guitar guru. From the very onset of Regret Over the Wires, the raspy, mumbled drawl is the grating sandpaper on the vastly tested material. His unadulterated brand of rock n’ roll is heavily doused with helpings of Southern rock and country soul; all while drenched with the blood soaked honesty that is the wicked blanket of that draping voice. Like a dusty trail resting over a restless town, he is filled with a thousand verses of never-ending stories; and this latest collection appears to be the documentation of an erratic career that has seen him victim to major label cost cutting and the eternal uncertainly of independent business.
And from these uncertainties, Ryan has come to terms with his own life – clarification he so expressively pens in the creeping “The Little Things” (a reworked version from the one that appeared on Dissent in the Living Room). With words so personally profound, “One day I’ll throw myself / To the life I live in dream / Where dark bouquets explode / And fall colors never seen / in this static gray today / Of this hopeful little scene”, the clarity found in such tragedy is a searing that burns straight to our very core; a tune of lonely heartbreak and hopeful disillusion.
The very atmosphere that lies within these territories of depression and the countless nights in lands untamed comes culled to unmatched perfection in “Nails”. Slow moving and peacefully tuned to sparse geography, the meandering country-like acoustics (like a trusty liquor sidekick) become the welcomed companion to a long endless horizon. It is in stark contrast to the following “Sweetie”, a far more jovial account of traveling romance that is the norm of road life. A tale of meeting eyes between good girls and the rugged hero set to the hue of cigarettes and bar stools.
If he best be kept to comparisons, then these aspects are the ones he should be judged by. Compelling and honest, these images of desolation in and around oneself, often delicately lined with traces of passing optimism are Ryan’s true wrenched soul in music. His capacity for storytelling is as great as the very paths he appears to have taken. And in all this frazzled and frail sincerity, the underlining to the “yes, he sounds like Bob Dylan” is met with a resounding “and in his own musical construction, he wickedly traces personal folklore too”.
As he so painfully curls the words, “A fake, a buzz, a tiny shift / You know they put their weight in it / Those on the downsize know just where the bodies are hid”, his ponderings of the “traffic, cons and static everywhere” sulkily amuses how the commercialization of almost everything is just part of life’s unknown; a frenzied mass consumption campaign that has spun and jaded him. This very blue perspective and bitter tiredness becomes the album’s breathtaking sentiment; an incredible potency intertwined amongst the tales of regret, confusion, acceptance and loneliness. And between these cynicisms, hopes and insight, the lofty comparison that may dog a lesser artist, becomes the mere sinking sunset to this very passionate fable.