Last September, Chicago singer-songwriter and virtuoso guitarist Ryley Walker made his Guildford debut, riding high on the acclaim given to his second studio album, Primrose Green. A rootsy, jazz-influenced folk album, it featured on AOTY magazine lists and set the bar high for any follow-ups. On the evidence of Walker's second Guildford performance at St Mary's Church on Friday, fans have little to worry about. Golden Sings That Have Been Sung (sic) due out today (Friday) looks unlikely to disappoint.
St Mary's is a wonderful venue for acoustic guitar music and Walker left behind his backing band, whose double bass makes such an impact on record. Instead, we get the wash of his guitar playing which in the nave of the church carries a seemingly-bottomless tone His playing gives the impression of being loose, matching he arrangements of the songs themselves but is , in fact, both accomplished and soulful.
Opening the gig, Funny Thing She Said, from the new album, starts with strummed harmonics over a droning open root note. It transports the listener to Walker's America before taking off on a finger-picking groove. Minutes later there is a third movement in just the first song, as his voice joins in. "Funny thing she said to me: I could see you giving me a child". It's a great opening line and of course in the folk tradition, it is never going to be quite that simple. If his voice doesn't have the freewheeling feel of his guitar playing, it nevertheless is strong and anchors the songs with lyrics that hint at Biblical tales. As he sings Sullen Mind, " I only have a Christian education". Not all the songs carry a solemn weight through. New album opener The Halfwit In Me, was he explained, inspired by a late night drinking session followed by a long walk home through the snow in tennis shoes. "The halfwit in me kept on keeping on."
Judging by the muted response when he asked the audience what would be happening in Guildford after the show, there was little danger of a repeat of that session. Its was an appreciative crowd though and all will hope Walker keeps on coming on back.