Bart Ryan – Starlight and Tall Tales
Blackbird Record Label
10 songs – 46 minutes
A gritty-voiced session guitar player who was born in Los Angeles and is based in Nashville, Bart Ryan delivers an all-original set of soulful, blues-infused roots on this album, wrapping his inner turmoil in a collection of intimate, bittersweet tunes that bare his struggles and offer up a little hope, too.
Doubling on guitar and lap steel and delivering rich tone on both, Ryan grew up listening to Albert Collins, Stevie Ray Vaughan and David Gilmour. While still in his teens, he was playing in late-night bars with Coco Montoya and several others. He was a fixture on the blues scene in Atlanta for five years before returning home to be closer to family.
This is the sixth CD in Bart’s catalog in a career that’s included serving as the musical producer for several major movies, including The Descendants, the Academy Award-winning George Clooney flick. This one was recorded at Starlight Studios and features tunes that deal with what he describes in the liner notes as “three strange years filled with late nights, struggle, mold poisoning, broken affairs, Sexton Irish Whiskey and political insanity.”
He’s backed by several of the top studio musicians in L.A. and Tennessee, including Mark Kovaly (keys), Jeff Byrd and Steve Smartt (horns), Ted Russell Kamp and Matt Higgins (bass) and Jim Evans (drums) with Aubrey Richmond contributing violin and joining Michael Mishaw and Amber Gartner on backing vocals.
Ryan sets the mood with “Wanna Be,” an unhurried, soul-drenched message to his lady that he doesn’t want to be “an afterthought for you/Or something you need to do” – just the only thing she thinks about through the day. Like the song that follows, “I’d Be a Fool,” it deals with a complicated relationship and draws influences from the works of Stevie Wonder and James Brown. A funky bass line kicks up the energy level for the latter, which builds intensity throughout, is delivered after the end of the affair and has Bart feeling like “I should just drink poison” rather than take her back again – something he does anyway.
The ballad, “Half Way,” opens quietly with a dreamy run on six-string before launching into lyrics that continues the theme forward, this time describing a lady who’s more trouble than she’s worth and who seemingly smiles but is really baring her teeth before she bites.
The action heats up for the hard-driving, stop-time rocker, “Evil,” a highly charged statement against the Trump administration, then softens its attack for “Walk Away,” another emotion-packed view of a difficult romance. The woman’s allure is so deep in this one that Ryan ignores the advice of friends to leave.
The bluesy ballad, “Bring Out Your Joy,” will please any guitar lover as it urges a friend to uplift the singer’s mood by sharing a little happiness and love and promises not to take too much. The funk kicks in for “The Healer,” an uptempo rocker that offers up a little hope in the form of a lady who’s in possession of magic potions and a magic wand, while the ballad “Nobody” sings praise for friends who’ve remained steadfastly at the singer’s side even when he was at the depths of despair. The rocker “Tonight Tonight” advises to enjoy yourself while you can before the acoustic blues, “Desire,” brings the set to a close with the message that no matter how bad life’s treated you, “the worst thing in life is to have no dream at all.”
Available through iTunes, Amazon and Google Play, Starlight and Tall Tales mirrors modern times filled with uncertainty and hope, and may not be right for you if you’re struggling right now. But Bart Ryan shows here that he’s an exceptionally gifted songwriter and musician who’s willing to bare all for his craft. This is an excellent work that deserves your ear despite the unsettling themes of the material.