Charles Ryan Davis – Six – EP Review
Busy year for good ol’ Mr. Charles Ryan Davis – Six would be his third record of 2019…at least, so far.
When you run into creative & inspired output like this, you really never know, there could still be more to come later on in the final months of the decade before we all officially flip our calendars over to 2020.
As we personally discovered earlier in the summer, Charles Ryan offers listeners something wildly unique, imaginative, and genuinely new…I sure listen to a whole lot of tunes out there, but I can’t really think of any particular artist or band that his music reminds me of. While there’s always the challenge of breaking ground when you’re going your own route, there are also in turn, the rewards of a dedicated fan-base and true identity that becomes established. Charles Ryan is like himself, and like no one else.
Technically, we jumped in about halfway into his catalog as a solo artist, back when we reviewed his album Four back in July. I dig artists like Davis that choose to go left instead of right…artists with the courage to not simply do more of what’s been done…artists that blaze their own trail, even with the risk it potentially comes with. Sure it might take the people a little bit longer to discover anything that’s not riding high with the mainstream – but already by this point, when the people do find Charles Ryan Davis, they’ll discover Six records already available, ready to be listened to. And oddly enough, while he might not sound much like anyone else, the consistency & quality of his own creations, has always been there.
As in, no matter how diverse, unique, or even strange his own songs might be from track-to-track or album-to-album, that tangible identity he’s established in his own signature sound makes it a sure bet that, if you listen to one tune and like something he does, you’ll probably end up liking all of his music.
Try to tell me there are not multiple benefits in going his route…I’ll be ready to argue otherwise for sure!
There are lots of things you’ll notice from the moment that “Night Walk” starts his new record Six. From the uniqueness in the instrumentation he uses, to the comforting vibes he creates, to the poetic way he writes his lyrics, or the melodies that he sings them with – chances are, something will stand-out quickly to any set of ears listening. For myself personally, I got right into the lyrics of this opening tune – I dig the playful, pleasant, and quaint sound of the song that comes along with his words, but it was the scenes he described and the imagery he used that caught my attention the most when it came to “Night Walk.” Again, as a dude that listens to a whole lotta tunes from day-to-day, I hear a ton of love-songs in the process…and in general, I’d ballpark a guess that 99% of them are much less sincere than this opening track on Davis’ new record – that’s where “Night Walk” succeeds in so many places others fail. Don’t get me wrong, these thoughts of mine are exactly that – my own – just an interpretation of what I hear and what I see out there…but that’s what “Night Walk” was to me…a love song, but a truly sincere one. Like…it’s remarkably humble and sweet really…the kind of song that’s so stunningly beautiful without feeling like a single split-second of its words or music have been forced – and there’s no better kind of love-song out there than that. Describing the beauty of a relationship from an objective standpoint, Charles Ryan makes observations and muses on a “Night Walk” between a husband & wife, while bringing even more to the story/song through poetic descriptions of what else is/isn’t going on around the pair of lovers, while they walk together through the rain as the rest of the world is sleeping. The story driving “Night Walk” is wonderfully natural and incredibly real, and ultimately it makes for an enticingly sweet beginning to Six.
“Time Waste” is almost the opposite scenario if I’m hearing all this correctly. If you’ve ever found yourself on the other side of love and without it all of a sudden (which c’mon, we all have at some point), then you’ll both relate to and understand where Charles Ryan is coming from on this song. He explores a mix of emotions & thoughts over a psychedelically-tinged, jazzy sound – and there’s not a thing about this track I’d complain about, I think he’s done an exceptional job of creating something that really stands-out with “Time Waste.” Sure it’s dismal…I bring you no illusions that “Time Waste” is going to be among the happier tunes you’ll hear this year, it’s not – but once again, through the organic nature of the way that Davis writes his music and words, there’s a solid chance that it WILL be one of the most real. From what I can tell, it’s largely about the feeling of there being no point to pretty much anything without the one you love by your side – and that’s a feeling I can certainly relate to. Even though I’ve been happily married for more than a decade, my wife is my rock and my number-one defense against depression – any time she leaves for a work trip, I experience a ton of what Davis sings about on “Time Waste.” The shifty & odd way this song creeps around gives life to that feeling of insanity & discontent that we can feel trying to justify our existence solo – “How do I make it matter?” as Charles Ryan puts it. Inventive and innovative from its theme to the writing & musicianship – “Time Waste” plays like anything but a typical tune, stocked full of clever twists & turns, stops & starts, almost mimicking the second-guessing that comes along with the lyrical narrative. Insightful stuff from CRD here…it’ll make you think, it’ll make you ponder, it might even make you slightly uncomfortable, but it’s entirely real.
The promise of love is valiantly renewed on “Heartedly Whole” – where once again, Davis finds brilliant ways of describing undying love and the genuine commitment that comes with truly loving someone. I also think he’s using the space of sound to his advantage on this third cut from Six as well; he’s stumbled into an impressively captivating composition that has an atmosphere that perfectly matches the feeling of the words. As far as vocals go on this EP, I think Charles Ryan nails the monumental meaning behind the words he’s written with spectacular conviction in the way he sings “Heartedly Whole.” It might be subtle – but damn is it SURE, you know what I mean? That’s where the real magic of Charles Ryan’s sincerity shines brightest on “Heartedly Whole” if you were to ask me…every note counts for something huge here, the pace is mesmerizing, and the words are so astoundingly stoic and rooted in the belief of what love is really all about that, I think many people will not only find this becomes their favorite cut on the record, but also be surprised that such a subtle sound could pack in so much powerful meaning. In any event, what I can tell ya for sure, is that “Heartedly Whole” was definitely one of my own favorites from the lineup on Six…its gentle demeanor in sound was spot-on, and the bold conviction in the words was impossible to miss & equally impossible not to empathize with. Essentially, if you love LOVE…the idea of it, the pursuit of it, the reality of it…the commitment it takes and how willing you are to commit when you find the person you’re truly meant for – you can’t help but fall head over heels for this tune.
“Landmine Waltz” was a highly interesting tune to me. No joke & no kidding around here, it’s every bit as much of a Waltz as the title implies, or perhaps even more with its counted dance-steps…and while the Waltz is still a style of music that’s well-covered today on many records out there, it’s still a throwback type of sound that immediately recalls the past in a comforting way. I would say that there’s a noticeable shift in direction around this point of Six however; I’d be the last person to say that Charles Ryan ever writes particularly straight-ahead when it comes right down to it – but I did feel like the latter three songs in this set moved more towards the abstract…or became less about the theme of love that the opening three tracks present. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the idea of combining a Waltz-style tune with the imagery of landmines…you can practically see a couple in love, dancing around in an open-field, completely unaware of the potential dangers surrounding them, avoiding the explosions and sudden death by following the guidelines & direction of a traditional Waltz. While I probably wouldn’t go as far as to say this is ‘the single’ of Six – “Landmine Waltz” deserves its own viral video or mini-movie to support the contrasting ideas here between the theme and its music. It’s one of the most remarkable metaphors for safety in a relationship as you might hope to ever stumble upon; like I’d mentioned before, there might be a shift towards a more abstract theme here, but that’s what I’m getting out of it!
If I was to choose a single from this EP, chances are the closest I’d come to pinning it down would be “Little Witches” – although for the record, typical ‘singles’ are far, far removed from what Charles Ryan creates – he’s very much the literal & audible definition of an artist. But while it might be hard to imagine a place for a song like “Little Witches” out there on the airwaves somewhere – the intended purpose behind ANY single is to draw you in to listen to the rest…and I felt like this song had the strongest pull in that sense, largely due to its more mysterious sound. It’s also as close to any kind of comparison I could potentially make to anything else out there…you could claim “Little Witches” isn’t too far of a stretch from something Eskimo Joe would create. There’s always going to be a fraction of the way that Davis sings & sounds that’s going to remind me of the Fine Young Cannibals singer Roland Gift – and so again, if you can imagine the combination of these two elements, you can pick up on the resulting uniqueness and how that really wouldn’t end up sounding like anyone other than Charles Ryan. As long as I’ve known about the guy and been listening to his music, being Charles Ryan Davis is the only thing I’ve ever known Charles Ryan Davis to want to be anyhow; this being my third experience with his catalog of tunes, I can safely say he’s achieving that mission with gold stars. There’s no guiding an artist with a powerful perspective of their own and the poetic ability to express it in-full, no recommendations to be made when the music and production is in line…you simply sit back & enjoy it for exactly what it is and wherever it may take you in your mind. Chances are, “Little Witches” may have some metaphorical meaning that’s well-beyond me…I wouldn’t rule that out as a possibility – but there’s also a solid chance he’s taking a break from the internalized & emotional themes for a moment to tell us a tale of his own design – and it’s because of that, even with a more mysterious melody or darker sound, it can become quite a welcome reprieve when it comes around on the Six EP. Bottom line is, it’s probably the biggest departure on the record theme-wise, but also flexes a different dimension of its accessibility as well.
Lyrically…maybe even musically as well…I think “Unwritten Writer” is all-out phenomenal really. Though, be warned – if you’re an artist, musician, or a writer yourself – your feelings are about to be HURT here…because “Unwritten Writer” is about as truthful as a song could ever be for far too many. Up to, and including, yours truly right here writing this review. The chorus sums up the stalling of the creative process in the most apt & precise way I’ve literally ever heard – Davis sings: “Ain’t it sad/What could’ve been/Ain’t it sad/And all too common.” I can’t even begin to explain the oddness in the comfort that “Unwritten Writer” supplied me with – and I mean that; I think most of us creative types think whatever blockage we experience with our art is unique unto ourselves until someone out there proves it’s not – and what Charles Ryan has detailed here felt like he was singing about my own plight. Fact is though, he’s describing a scenario shared by many creative-types here, he’s just doing it better than the rest of us ever could. The REAL question is, HOW on earth did Davis do it? With the sheer level of output he’s created over these past three years alone, you have to wonder if he’s ever experienced all the things he’s singing about here, but the sincerity of his vocals and words tell you that he must’ve at some point in time. Perhaps before he decided to push record, way-back-when…maybe it’s based on his past, but I can certainly tell ya it couldn’t possibly be based on his present – Charles Ryan Davis is putting out an inspired collection of tunes at a rapid pace…writer’s block is likely not something in his way right now. Or IF it was – look at how he’s beaten it by looking at the monster straight in the eye on “Unwritten Writer” and turning that tale into triumph by actually writing about it directly, thereby including writer’s block in the actual SOLUTION to writer’s block! And like…well…I mean c’mon now, that’s a genius-level move, ain’t it? Zero doubt about the amount of thought that Davis puts into his material and how creative he can be – “Unwritten Writer” is absolutely full proof of that all to be true and makes for a remarkable highlight at the very end of Six. It’s the audio-equivalent of turning water into wine, lemons into lemonade, potential tragedy into decisive triumph – Charles Ryan is a musical alchemist. Poetry without pretentiousness is always a tough task, no matter how sincere the intentions behind it may be – yet, somehow, that’s exactly what CRD has pulled off here. He has a creativity that most artists will never come close to tapping into, and true uniqueness he can completely call his own.
Find the Six EP by Charles Ryan Davis at iTunes here: https://music.apple.com/us/album/six-ep/1480611220
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