Ryan McGarvey – “Redefined”

“McGarvey shows limitless potential and stunning growth on sophomore release”

by Tango Sho’Nuff

Back in 2007, a young teenager out of Albuquerque, New Mexico officially began his professional recording career with “Forward in Reverse”, a strong collection of songs that showed remarkable promise and maturity for an artist not yet in his twenties.  While the album aptly displayed Ryan’s well-rounded guitar prowess and ‘beyond-his-years’ songwriting, it didn’t exactly catch the music world on fire.  However, just three short years later, McGarvey got his first big break when he was chosen by Eric Clapton himself to perform at his 2010 Crossroads Festival.  Since then, he has relentlessly hit the road across the US, (as well as 3 successful European tours) building a loyal following the old-fashioned way, all the while honing his craft and molding his own signature sound.

Which brings us to his much-anticipated follow-up release “Redefined”.  Whether a conscious decision or not, the album’s 11 tracks give the impression that McGarvey is uninterested in following in anyone’s footsteps, nor will he bend to appease blues purists.  No clichéd I-IV-V progressions, no cover tunes, pretty much nothing you’d expect to find on a post-SRV blues rock artists album.  While there are plenty of stellar artists currently populating the blues rock genre, there’s also an over-abundance of acts whose sole purpose seems to be throwing together uninspired songs as a vehicle to showcase how many licks they can cram into a 12 bar solo.  While McGarvey has astounding technique and chops to spare, his playing never comes across as over indulgent, nor do the songs feel like platforms for six string wankery.  The fact that Ryan is just 25 years old makes this trait all the more remarkable.

“Redefined” opens with the stellar “All The Little Things”, a brooding rocker with a slow grinding pace.  Ryan’s vocals have matured considerably in the years since his debut and have a strong Ian Moore/Charlie Sexton feel to them on this particular track.  The song’s strong melodies and tasteful playing set the overall mood of the album right off the bat.  Next up is the uptempo “Never Seem to Learn”, a track that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on rock radio.  Starting out with a standard two chord riff, the song quickly transforms into a moody, hook-laden beast with a driving rhythm and soaring lead section.  Also of note is the album’s stellar production.  Everything is full and rich with each instrument sitting perfectly in the audio spectrum.  “My Sweet Angel” is a dynamic gem of a song that makes good use of light and shade before launching into another exquisite solo.  McGarvey’s solos tend to be short and to the point, never over staying their welcome and emphasize substance over flash.

With its ethereal, majestic intro and Eric Johnson-ish lead, “Starry Night” brings to mind one of Ryan’s close friends and influences Mr. Joe Bonamassa, a player that he has been compared to in the past.  While you can hear hints of Bonamassa’s vocals and tone here, McGarvey’s compositional skills and restrained approach give him the advantage of appealing to a broader audience and not just guitar geeks.  “Blues Knockin’ At My Door” recalls Warren Hayne’s Gov’t Mule at their crunchiest and gives a taste of Ryan’s sweet, melodic slidework over a well oiled groove.

Halfway in, I feel compelled to point out a few things that impress me the most about Ryan.  First off, age not withstanding, Ryan has an unparralleled knack for letting his song’s arrangements breathe, never over cluttering them with his playing and letting his rhythm section carry them where they need to go, his guitar work always being the ‘icing on the cake’ so to speak.  Speaking of his playing, the other thing that stands out is his guitar sound.  It has to be one of the most pleasing tones I’ve heard in ages and his sparse use of effects further add to its appeal.  Both of these traits are showcased thoroughly on the next track “Prove Myself”.  Bluesy and funky, with subtle wah wah flourishes that float over an irresistible bass and drum groove. The leadwork being particularly noteworthy, transitioning effortlessly from pentatonic flurries to double stops and scalar runs.

The next two tracks proved to be the most standout tracks overall in my opinion.  “Blue Morning Night” paints a vivid picture of heartbreak and sorrow with passionate vocals and an absolutely breathtakingly catchy chorus followed by what I feel is the album’s most glorious solo, coming across as an immaculate composition in its own right (the pulsing build ups in the outro are exceptionally cool as well).  “So Close To Heaven” follows suit with poetic lyrics and hooks galore.  Gold-spun guitar fills and another standout solo simply add to the overall feel of the song, every note striving to pierce the listener’s soul.  Clocking in at a compact two minutes and thirty-six seconds, “Downright Insane”  is riff rock at it’s finest.  Arena-sized riffs play call and response with vibe-soaked lines before you’re hit in the face with a searing wah workout.  In stark contrast, “Pennies” serves up a more laid back, dynamic approach with more hints of Bonamassa-isms while still remaining unmistakably McGarvey.  Closing out the record is the acoustic instrumental “Four Graces”, showing yet another side of McGarvey’s playing and versatility.

Overall, “Redefined” lives up to its title and aptly demonstrates McGarvey’s almost overwhelming level of talent.  I can’t begin to put into words how refreshing this release was to hear.  Ryan’s signature sound is not defined by his guitar licks nor his technique, but by his dedication to creating music and writing songs where the sum is greater than the parts.  In a perfect world, a number of the tracks featured here would be populating rock radio’s airwaves (Lord knows it would do the poor genre some good).  With a laundry list of acts from Rock’s Golden Age either withering away or releasing sub-par material, along with the confusing state of the Blues-Rock genre’s oversaturation of clones and gunslingers, “Redefined” has set the bar high for the future.  With the current state of the music industry still in transition, its hard to tell what the future will hold for young artists like McGarvey.  But with this kind of talent, a strong work ethic, and a little perseverance and tenacity, his future is not just bright…it’s blinding.

For more info on Ryan, and online availability of “Redefined”, please visit www.ryanmcgarvey.com

9/10 stars

TRACK LISTING:

1 – All The Little Things
2 – Never Seem To Learn
3 – My Sweet Angel
4 – Starry Night
5 – Blues Knockin’ At My Door
6 – Prove Myself
7 – Blue Morning Night
8 – So Close To Heaven
9 – Downright Insane
10- Pennies
11- Four Graces

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