Ryley Walker - The Lillywhite Sessions - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Ryley Walker - The Lillywhite Sessions

by Brian Thompson Rating:7 Release Date:2018-11-16
Ryley Walker - The Lillywhite Sessions
Ryley Walker - The Lillywhite Sessions

There’s such an entrancing, illicit appeal to the mythos around lost art. Just last week, the notoriously unreleased Orson Welles film The Other Side of the Wind finally made its way to audiences. And now, Ryley Walker is taking the notion of recovery one step further. In late 1999, Dave Matthews Band set out to craft a darker, less refined album, embracing a grittier muse and leaving each strained mistake on the final recording. The band’s record label decided that this new sound didn’t have the marketability of Crash or Before These Crowded Streets, so The Lillywhite Sessions (named for the contributions of famed English record producer Steve Lillywhite) was shelved indefinitely. Although the record was never officially released, it was leaked online, and it quickly gained a mammoth reputation amongst fans as the ‘true’ Dave Matthews Band sound. Ryley Walker, having had an album of original material (Deafman Glance) out less than six months ago, has decided to unearth the forgotten record, covering it in its entirety in an indie rock reimagining of the sounds of his youth.

With his vibrant reenvisioning, Walker has latched onto the charisma and athleticism of the jam band culture surrounding Dave Matthews Band, as he appears to be making the argument that the artistry of the band gets buried under the weight of their massive cultural reach and laid-back approachability. In order to correct this, Walker attempts to strip away the music’s commercial baggage as to showcase the pronounced personality hidden beneath. He truly comes alive on the album’s lengthier tracks, keeping the funky exoskeleton on jam sessions like “Sweet Up and Down” and “JTR,” opening them up and letting them breathe. Walker also enjoys accentuating the strangeness of the tunes by stretching them out and highlighting the invitation for improvisation within the original structure, including twinges of electronica on songs like “Grey Street” and “Kit Kat Jam.”

First and foremost, Walker keeps the tone of the album relatively light-hearted. He acknowledges the cultural criticism of the band, but never to the point where he makes a joke of the project. Walker’s love for Dave Matthews Band is undoubtedly sincere, even though he recognizes that they are widely disregarded in many critical circles. Walker brings his mumbled, off-kilter charm to droll numbers like “Busted Stuff” and “Big Eyed Fish,” before leaning heavily into the abstract with “Monkey Man.” In “Diggin’ a Ditch,” Walker find an opportunity for a fuzzy, experimental power rocker. However, when it is time to get serious, Walker doesn’t shy away from emotional heft, highlighting the tender mercy of ballads like “Grace is Gone” and “Captain.”

The Lillywhite Sessions, while a loving tribute, is a work that is entirely Walker’s own. The album’s appeal stretches much further than simply that of adamant Dave Matthews Band fans. Much like Ryan Adams did with his full-album cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 a few years back, Ryley Walker may have crafted a vessel that will serve as a Trojan horse, infiltrating the airwaves of longtime DMB detractors and converting them to the ways of the Charlottesville band in the process.

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