8 down, 2 to go. Thanks for enduring this…
Album 9: Matthew Ryan, Matthew Ryan vs The Silver State
I’m guessing that most of you, unless you’ve been around me a fair amount, have never heard of Matthew Ryan (no, not the Atlanta Falcons quarterback). Other than Joshua Tree, this is the only other album that was a straight automatic in my list. This guy is simply one of the best songwriters you’ve never heard of.
Matthew Ryan has been around a while, and, for some reason, has not found the commercial success that seems appropriate for his talent. His career reminds me of that of Paul Westerberg, both with the Replacements and then solo, extraordinary talent that somehow flies under the radar but has a strong following of those that know him.
I became a fan of Ryan’s music in 2003, when I attended a show of his in Decatur, GA at Eddie’s Attic and picked up a copy of Regret Over the Wires. At the time, Kim and I had been living in Athens for a few years and had become friends with a group from our church. One of the men, Eric, introduced us all to Matthew Ryan, and I believe every one of us became devoted followers. Seeing him live that first time was interesting, because he has a very unique, raspy voice that perhaps isn’t a love-at-first-hear style. But upon listening to the CD and then picking up others he had released or would subsequently, I was able to make the connection between his voice, his music, and his lyrics.
Ryan uses words carefully and with economy, often packing images and meaning into very few words. I love it. Even if what I imagine is likely far different from what he’s actually describing.
For me, Matthew Ryan vs The Silver State is his best album. Brilliant songwriting, full band, professional production. Sometime after its release, he again played at Eddie’s Attic. I remember his playing “It Could’ve Been Worse.” He knew our group and saw us singing, so he walked over with his guitar and sang it by our tables. It was a great moment, but at the end he asked us, “what happened to him?” I answered, “he jumped.” Matthew, disappointed, said, “noooooooooooooo.” I get it now. But he expects a lot from his listeners with his subtle lines, and I missed what seems obvious when I hear that song now.
Listening to Ryan today is a little bittersweet for me. I miss listening to it with those friends, Eric and Ashlie, Scott and Christine, Bryan and Kathryn. But I have many memories of the times we shared, and listening to this album brings them out (good and bad). So, this one goes with me.
From “It Could’ve Been Worse” (I can’t believe I thought the dude jumped):
So you stood on that bridge
Overlooking old crappy town
Snow was falling slowly all around
You smoked a quick cigarette
But I’ll never believe
That you jumped and just ended there
The note you left read, “Look everywhere”
“You’ll never bury me”
A stereo and a pile of cassettes
That dirty mirror where you used to get dressed
There you stood getting tight with your scars
Some broken chords on a cheap guitar
It could’ve been worse