The brilliantly inventive sound of Chicagoan singer-songwriter Ryley Walker’s second album Primrose Green is finding a home with progressive folk lovers everywhere. Just as well, because he doesn’t have one of his own.
“I don’t really live anywhere,” says the 25-year-old, matter-of-factly. “I sleep on a couch in the south side of Chicago with a guy in my band, Brian, and whenever I have a few dollars to spare, I give him the money. I don’t own anything, except a record collection, a guitar and a backpack of clothes.
“I play music and I’m lucky enough to go around the world, but I have nothing to show for it. But I have all these great stories and great memories, I guess that’s what I do have to show. If you know a place that’s renting, let me know.”
Now that’s a real troubadour. It’s also a real record collection, as becomes obvious when Walker reels off a few of the influences on his wonderfully free-spirited record, which marries the traditions of late-60s folk rock with the improvisational temperament of jazz.
“I’ve always been attracted to the British folk scene of that time,” he says, “like Pentangle, and I love Wizz Jones. John Martyn’s obviously a huge one. I took influences from all around the world — it’s rooted in traditional English music, and from Scotland and Ireland and all over the UK, and American blues and roots music. But also jazz and world music. It just seems like that generation reached really far in writing music, and I’m really inspired by that.”
Bert Jansch and Richard Thompson are also in his list of influences, but Walker has a voice of his own that belies his relative youth, and that’s with what he considers to be one false start behind him.
“I’ve done a lot of different kinds of bands, but I have the most confidence in this record,” he muses. “I did one [All Kinds Of You] last year, and I really don’t like how it came out, so I really wanted to do something better here. The songs and the singing are a lot better, I’m really happy with it.”
Primrose Green has claimed almost a universal four and five-star critical endorsement, but ask Walker when he first realised he might be a career musician and he throws another curveball. “I’m still asking that today,” he says. “A career in music is obviously what I want to do, and there’s nothing else I can do. There’s no other plan for anything besides music. I wake up every day and I only drink coffee so I can play guitar, and I only have a beer so I can have fun and talk about music with my friends.
“To think about doing anything else, it’s never entered my mind. Whether I’m making five dollars or 500 dollars, or whether I sleep on the street or at the Four Seasons, I’ll be making music and what comes after that doesn’t matter. What matters is the gig tomorrow.”
Ryley Walker (acoustic guitar, vocals), Ben Boye (keyboards), Anton Hatwich (electric and double bass), Frank Rosaly (drums)
A mid-ocean marriage of John Martyn and Tim Buckley
Primrose Green is out now on Dead Oceans