Keely Chisholm ’17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
Ryley Walker’s Primrose Green is at once nostalgic and brand new. He combines a folksy decades-old sound and soulful vocals with an indie rock twist that manages to sound modern. It’s the kind of music that sounds like something you might have heard once on a throwback radio station, but it’s too contemporary to have heard it there.
Primrose Green follows 2014’s debut album, All Kinds Of You. If listened to back-to-back, they flow seamlessly into one another; there’s consistency and familiarity. Late January heard the release of the leading single, title track “Primrose Green.” Ethereal in every sense—guitar picking, piano riffs, deceptively simple lyrics—the song has a hallucinatory quality that immerses you in the album from the start.
When “Summer Dress” and “Same Minds” bring in the yearning tones of jazz and blues, it’s the bits in the background, the distorted sounds of electric guitars or synthesizers, that keep the haze over the album. Without them, the hallucination would be up. Reality would set in, and the album would sound like any other experimental indie-folk effort from this decade.
“Griffith Buck’s Blues” in an instrumental break just short of halfway through the album that shows off exactly what Walker can do with a guitar.
Perhaps the most glaring throwback to bluegrass is “On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee.” From the title to the twangy picking in the intro, it could fit in on a classic country station. That is, until the signature synth-y bits come in in between repetitions of the lyrics.
“Sweet Satisfaction” is the most straightforwardly indie rock, with the electric guitar coming to the forefront in the latter half of the song. This time, it’s the force that drives the song through to the end. It’s almost as if for three minutes, the illusion is broken.
It doesn’t last long, though, before the former soothing picking returns in “The High Road.” This time, it’s the violins in the background that add the dreamlike quality. Absent of the more modern elements, it sounds like a glorified folk song of old and feels like something passed down for generations before falling into Walker’s hands.
“All Kinds Of You” brings the listener back to the sounds of “Summer Dress,” back to the now-familiar concoction of jazz, folk, and indie influences, plus the requisite electric touch.
The album finishes off with “Hide In The Roses,” with vague lyrics much like those of the opening track. More rapid picking and a slightly faster tempo help the song bring the album to an almost sudden-feeling close.
As mentioned in the review of “Primrose Green,” this is driving music, but for very specific times. This is early morning and dusk music, when the numbers on the clock start to feel indistinguishable. This is the beginning and the end, starting off and wrapping up; it would make sense for an album that mixes old and new to span both ends of the journey.
As an album, Primrose Green delivers. As a highly-anticipated follow-up, it does all that and then some. Old listeners will enjoy Walker’s musical progression, and new listeners will enjoy letting themselves be swept away.