Charles Ryan Davis – 3 – Album Review
Right on, right on – always rad to have Charles Ryan Davis in the mix. We’re reaching back to last year in this review, when he released his record 3 in 2018 – a concept album. Here’s the synopsis from CRD himself: “Kade wins the lottery. He convinces his high school girl Elizabeth to fake a fight with him, so his dad will hear them, talk to him, and be an alibi. Meanwhile, Elizabeth disappears. Everyone expects foul play, but no matter what, Kade has an alibi, his dad. Kade is in no trouble no matter what. Eventually Kade disappears and meets up with Elizabeth. People think it must be a serial killer or something. Meanwhile, Kade and Elizabeth start a new life with lots of lottery money. Elizabeth loves the materialistic aspects, but she misses home. Elizabeth and Kade have a fight about it and he pushes her down the staircase in anger. Elizabeth dies.”
Personally, I appreciate the explanation. I’m familiar enough with concept albums to know that most of them still need to be spelled out plainly for listeners, even when the storylines that adorn them can often seem absolutely obvious to their creators. Believe me when I say…it ain’t always the case when it comes to the people out there…even salty veterans of the headphones like myself struggle more often than we’d probably admit to keep up to the average concept record. Having the above scenario included along with CRD’s album 3 went a long way in terms of understanding what this was all about. Life can sure be full of unseen twists & turns can’t it? So many of them far, far beyond our control.
What I can tell ya about any given concept album, regardless of whether or not the people out there ever fully understand it or get the messages being pushed forth, is that genuine effort is always a main ingredient – they literally do not exist otherwise. It’s tough enough for 99% of the artists/bands out there to write a single song with a consistently cohesive idea…doing it throughout the course of an album becomes more than a labor of love – it’s the sign of an artist or band that’s putting high doses of creativity, sincerity, and craft into the music they’re making. No exception to the rule, Charles Ryan has written a clever story over the course of eight songs on 3 and really made this record its own unique experience. The concept record when done right, can be one of our finest methods of storytelling.
I ended up spinning through 3 several times over the course of this past week or so, discovering that as much as I enjoyed the music, it was the words Davis had written on this record that were its ultimate hook. As he sets the stage for the story to follow on “Air So Paper Thin” and I found myself nuts deep in reading & re-reading the words to this tale as I listened, I truly marveled at just how impeccably written this whole album really is. People will tell you ‘they just don’t make’em like this anymore’ – but it’s more than clear from what CRD has created on 3, that indeed they do. I was highly impressed with the fact that this almost seemed more driven by the story itself, whereas most music is so much more of a response to the music, know what I mean? I know there are singers out there that write their lyrics in advance of even having a song…and I’ve learned firsthand just how awkward those tunes tend to be. 3 isn’t that at all…it’s clear that Charles Ryan had the concept he wanted to work with, songs to use as the vehicles to get the story out there, & made sure to focus his attention to detail sharply on both aspects. The results are right there from the very beginnings on “Air So Paper Thin” – highly poetic, highly observant, highly creative & compelling words that reveal his pen is just as mighty as any sword. Songs like “Air So Paper Thin” and the rest to follow are the kind of tunes you want to pull up a chair for to sit, listen, and absorb the details. And so I did – and I hope that you will too. While there’s truth in that concept records are few & far between, it’s awesome to find one with such a well thought-out story. Songs like “Air So Paper Thin” and the rest on 3 prove that Davis could easily have a career in live storytelling…you could argue that that is what Folk music is to begin with, but when listening to the tunes from this album, you’ll find details that run so much deeper than your average set of hooks do.
“The Ballad Of Detective Jones” was definitely one of my favorites from 3…and oddly enough, brilliantly relatable. I might not have a badge or a gun or any experience whatsoever in the detective industry – but I can certainly relate to the words, mood, and feeling this entire song creates. Charles Ryan sings this chorus brilliantly, getting to the heart of the yearning for a solution or an explanation to the story created on 3…and perhaps realizing his own personal limitations in being able to do complete the task at hand. Never put better than right there in his words, where CRD sings “Maybe I do the best I can/Maybe I don’t” – I think many of us out there struggle with understanding the sincerity of our own efforts in any of our own storylines. Maybe I’m just projecting. Regardless…he’s created a real gem with “The Ballad Of Detective Jones” and sings this song with serious conviction, altering back & forth between the humble sounds of his vocals and the complexity of the high-notes of his falsetto. You’ll find a couple of the tracks on this record come along with a more emotionally involved & naturally gripping sound to accompany the tales being told to us, “The Ballad Of Detective Jones” definitely qualifies in that category, likely also songs like “Lifeblood” later on in the lineup. But you’ll see visually from the words and hear in the way that CRD performs these tunes that he’s given himself a bit more space to work with as well, which has the man shining in the spotlight of those performances as a result. Essentially, whereas a song like the opener “Air So Paper Thin” is so loaded with info and details by comparison, songs like “The Ballad Of Detective Jones” and “Lifeblood” give you a smaller, zoomed-in snapshot of the scenario…and it’s these moments on 3 that seem to be the most rewarding to hear.
Even in its acoustic-based sweetness, you could make an odd but fair comparison to “Footloose” with CRD’s chorus on “Thin Walls, Fake Fights.” I’m assuming that’s wholly unintentional and a coincidence; because like…well probably because it’s beyond my brain as to why anyone out there would wanna get too close to “Footloose,” original movie, original soundtrack, or even the remake…but maybe that’s just me. “Thin Walls, Fake Fights” is certainly no carbon copy at the end of the day – not even close to the same tune really…but you’ll probably feel the comparison has some merit in the way he sings the title. ANYHOW. I won’t lie to ya…even it’s just a fraction of CRD’s song that reminds me of the Loggins megahit – there’s a distinctively brighter sound and energy in this tune that likely has more universal appeal to the masses out there listening. Whether it’s the comforting ease of the vibe in the gentle acoustic sound of “Thin Walls, Fake Fights” or the more defined hooks you can hear in the chorus, there’s a great chance that this would be one of the songs in this lineup that people caught onto right away. After listening to 3 several times over, it’s difficult to parse one small piece out of this record and say specifically that any one given song should be the gateway in here…it’d be like taking one chapter from the middle of a book and expecting that it could somehow represent the entire story being told. And we all know that’s an impossibility…you might get a vague sense of what it could all be about, but it’s the story being told all throughout 3 that really stacks up to this being a great record to experience.
“Do As We Dream” ended up reminded me more of a band like The Shins than anything by Kenny Loggins thankfully, and I’d put this up there with some of the best from 3 for sure. I’ll say this…you’ll likely find that a lot of this album sticks true to its sound/style almost too closely in such a way that you really come out with a feeling like, if you like one of these songs you should justifiably like them all – or vice versa. It becomes all about the little differences made…smart melodies like what CRD writes into the chorus of “Do As We Dream” that give the songs their true identity or defining audio qualities – but you’ll find that each tune on 3 really carries its uniqueness through the words & storyline contained within. After winning the lottery in the storyline, you can hear things change dramatically on “Do As We Dream” as you could imagine they would for many of us if we all of a sudden scored boatloads of cash. Worries fall away, the carefree attitude takes over, and hope is renewed…the world becomes Kade’s oyster…and every possibility under the sun is now firmly on the horizon. This is where CRD makes the difference though in his execution here…each of these tunes has a cadence that solidly mimics and echoes the overall mood of each part in the storyline that runs throughout 3, “Do As We Dream” just happens to be yet another fine example of what’s been working so well in this record’s favor. It’s what makes a concept album connect long beyond the words though…listen close and you’ll hear how the shifts in his energy really suit the needs of the songs & bring you even further into the story he’s telling.
“Lifeblood” is…seriously strong. While I might have no problem enjoying myself listening to any given tune by Charles Ryan Davis – it’s tunes like this that really stand out to me for all the right reasons. From the moment that it begins, the desolate sound of the acoustic guitar and the hollowness in the atmosphere surrounding him takes hold and never let’s go. Written from the perspective of Elizabeth’s mom, this tune painfully looks back in a nostalgic but incredibly sad narrative that you can’t help but feel. For any of you out there that have lost someone too early, ended a friendship before its time, or even just long for the days past that define our lives…you’ll get right into “Lifeblood” for sure. Without question one of my favorites from the lineup on 3 – like I had referenced in discussing “The Ballad Of Detective Jones,” you’ll find a slightly darker edge to the overall sound and a gripping combination of melody, emotion, and message at work on “Lifeblood.” I very much love the fact that CRD has written each of these songs from the point of view of one of the characters, or the narrator – you can literally hear the difference it makes in how each song sounds & feels from track to track. That being said, the raw emotions he’s tapped into in writing from Elizabeth’s mom’s perspective on “Lifeblood” is undoubtedly one of the tunes that feels most considered and fully realized. The mix of beauty, sadness, sorrow, and love found on this one song alone truly packs in more of a punch than most full records do.
I did my best to put myself in the main characters shoes and situations as I listened. Songs like “One Year Anniversary” are a great examination of reflecting on the choices we’ve made and the uneasiness that comes along with going your own way. A year into the escape of Elizabeth and Kade, you get Elizabeth’s perspective on this particular cut…and you can tell she’s questioning her decisions and second-guessing her entire life at this point. Sound familiar? Damn right it does. I have this conversation with me, myself, and I in the mirror just about every second day that passes or more. You could also look at this tune like the warning you hear in your subconscious mind or gut, speaking about futures and scenarios to come…the ones we should always listen to, but so often write-off instead. And as the story will go on to prove, of course Elizabeth should have listened to her own internal dialogue and conscience calling her as it does throughout “One Year Anniversary.” There’s real wisdom in a song such as this…the kind that’ll tell ya, sure, things in a relationship may start off fantastic…they might seem great at first…but if that changes, there’s no reason you can’t stop what’s been started, cut ties, and attempt to fix what might be broken by righting the course and going your own way. Stories like these ones CRD is tellin’ ya here can quite often be taken on a metaphorical level…”One Year Anniversary” is a bold reminder that, sometimes we can go way, way too far down the wrong path.
I’ve been trying to put my finger on another singer that Charles Ryan has been reminding me of for some time now…usually I hear the Roland Gift thing from FYC or comparisons to Australia’s Eskimo Joe – but there’s always been another I’ve been searching my mind to identify – and I’ve got it! No idea what the guy’s name is, but it’s the singer for a band called Cool For August…and he reminds me of that guy big time on “An Old Ghost.” More of a low-key environment in the one-man acoustic dealio that CRD has goin’ on in comparison to that of a full band, but again, if you’re listening closely the way both singers approach the mic with that hint of fragility & strength combined, you’ll hear what I’m hearing. Reality confronts Kade full-on within the words of “An Old Ghost” and it becomes clear that some decisions need to be made. While love might still exist strongly between himself and Elizabeth, it might not be strong enough to hold up against the consequences of going back on their decision to disappear together. And so it seems that, Kade will have to do a lil’ something about that. How am I doing so far here CRD – am I picking up on all this right? Who knows? I’ve got my theories and you’ll undoubtedly reach your own as well…but it seems as if “An Old Ghost” is a last ditch plea to see things from Kade’s perspective and understand the thought-process that leads to conclusion and choices he goes on to make. And that’s not exactly going to be easy for all of you out there to do…you’re stepping into the shoes of a very complex character…and perhaps into a mindset that’s altogether unlike your own. That being said, for those of you that like your character studies to run that deep, you’ll freakin’ love what’s happening throughout 3 & how songs like “An Old Ghost” are so pivotal to the overall story goin’ down.
Alright…so…being real with ya…”Dear Liza” probably isn’t where I’m personally at sound-wise more than any of the rest of these tunes – but it’s an essential cut on the record in terms of giving the entire story & concept the conclusion it needed. I come by this honestly…I can promise you that there’s probably not a single solitary song out there with a ‘falalala’ in it that I’d be in 100% support of…that’s just me. What I appreciate here, is the writing itself – I understand why CRD has included that and the playful, carefree attitude that comes with the realization that some things cannot be changed; that sometimes the path we’re on is one that we no longer control each step of…and oddly, there’s a freedom that’s attached to that. Like the human version of auto-pilot in a way…sometimes it’s just easier to be led forward by life itself and the decisions we’ve made, as opposed to attempting in vain to control the outcome. Even though in this particular scenario it’s resulted in a straight-up MURDER – it’s 100% easy to imagine that once the act was completed, it’s no longer really in Kade’s control…and regardless of what the consequences may be, there’s a blissful freedom in no longer having to think about everything that led up to the deadly deed. All that noise, all that confusion, all that pain…with a push, just stops. There will be new noise, new confusion, new pain assuredly awaiting just around the corner for any villain such as this…but in terms of a temporary reprieve, however brief…it’s fleeting aspects like that ‘falalala’ that actually capture that feeling the most. You get the conclusion you’re looking for in a great story on “Dear Liza” and the ultimate meanings & messages that have been conveyed since the record began, all wrapped up with a neat little bow here…it’s rare to stumble across such completeness inside of a concept album and such a well-executed storyline that ties all the songs together. You might like some songs better than others – that’s natural of course and I’m no different than you are in that sense – but when it comes right down to it, each cut on 3 is absolutely essential to the overall story and a true piece of the full picture this puzzle creates. Smart stuff from Charles Ryan Davis on 3; it’s a seriously well-crafted record that gives your brain real substance to chew on, think about…and of course, enjoy.
Find music by Charles Ryan Davis at Apple Music here: https://music.apple.com/us/artist/charles-ryan-davis/1316833300
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