For my wife's birthday a few weeks ago, we had a bbq in the backyard, lots of friends chowing down on kebabs with the 6-disc cd player dragged out again for its 'random' function - perfect for a long, cruisy afternoon. Sitting amongst Jim Croce, Nick Drake, the Youngbloods (live), Fleetwood Mac and Van Morrison was a recently received album by Melbourne country star Ryan Sterling.
And it was perfect music for a Saturday afternoon. An acoustic guitar is beautifully and carefully picked while a pleading, plaintive vocal comes in, making observations about himself and those close by. It’s a little bit country, a little bit folky singer-songwriter and then even a little bit more country. Sort of like how Townes Van Zandt is a little bit country and a little bit folky. Ryan reminds us of Townes, too. Underneath the sadness is a smile, a knowing nod that he is onto something good here.
Yep, perfect for a Saturday arvo, Sunday morning, any morning or afternoon, just maybe not Friday night unless being at home on your lonesome, drunk, jumping around to ‘Crosstown Traffic’ is your thing.
Ryan hails from the suburb of Northcote in Melbourne and has stepped away from his usual raucous rock sounds of Red Rattler and a duo with Shane French to head in a new direction that has produced Never Really There. Ryan adds just the right amount of instrumentation on the twelve tracks – banjo, dobro, flute and the saddest sounding harmonica you’ll hear this side of the Atlantic. There are three instrumentals which don’t detract from the whole; in fact, they seem to offer a pause, a chance to reflect on the feeling of loss and isolation spread throughout the album. In ‘Blowing Cold Winds’ there is a wonderful flute – the happy peak of the affair.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Never Really There ends on a positive note with ‘Shot Up With Love’ that features that harmonica again and the loosest yet most endearing collection of backing vocals. Wonderful.
It’s been a few weeks since the birthday bbq and the Ryan Sterling album is still getting a lot of regular plays. And Ryan launched the album in mid-September, so it's not a demo! Might have to change the 'Demo Of The Week' heading to something else. - ND