It’s late to be writing about this, particularly as the 25-year-old Walker will have three or four new albums primed and ready for – oh – next week I guess…but across the last year this has been one of my constant favourites.
I was sold on his debut, which I still listen to also – sometimes in tandem – but where that felt almost like some unearthed old gem, a rare record reissued for a new generation, Primrose Green is, one year on, the sound of a young, fresh artist carving his own path. Look, there’s still the Tim Buckley and Bert Jansch/Pentangle affectations and genuine affection and influence – and Walker’s idea of moving forward seems to be tapping into John Martyn and Veedon Fleece-era Van Morrison but also he has found his voice within that.
A devastatingly good player – it’s on pieces like Sweet Satisfaction where he couches a John Martyn-like tune in swirling psych-rock and jazz, as distortion and cymbals crash in around on the tune, his guitar the leading light always, tunnelling its way back out. And his voice – it soars even further here, already, just a year on from that audacious and mesmerising debut.
He’s playing at a level that feels far beyond almost anyone else while you’re listening to Primrose Green. It’s exciting, propulsive and gently virtuosic, by which I mean the depth of his talent is never alienating, merely a set of impressive skills and safe hands.
From the gentle Jansch-like opening title track through exploratory Pete Walker and John Fahey territory, Ryley Walker is ably assisted by his groove partners, Frank Rosaly (drums) and Anton Hatwitch (bass). They help him to take this music towards the Grateful Dead’s cosmic jamming, but never with that Phish twist of quirk for the sake of it. The music here feels fully formed and lovingly crafted and though you can hope to align it with so many folk-rock touchstones and textures Walker is out on his own. He’s a one-man-incredible-string-band, in that sense. A leader with none of the ego.
Griffiths Bucks Blues sounds like Mike Oldfield and John Fahey in a tangle, only Walker can make sense of it, shifting the folk intro to a raga-like intensity with shades of Davey Graham.
Same Minds subverts Martyn’s Solid Air, a proud nod of bass leading us into the tune, that same lick-and-curl of smoke as the guitar line lingers and wafts, circling in the space created inside the sizzle of the cymbal.
It’s intoxicating stuff. Hypnotic, trance-like, transcendent. Through it all there’s never the slightest touch of wilted Record Collection Pop, despite the references and comparisons this stands up on its own; is its own proud, majestic set of songs and sounds. While you’re listening to it, Primrose Green very nearly feels like the only thing that could matter in the world. It takes you away from anything else. Nestles you in, transports you.
He’s such a giant fucking talent. And this album is ridiculously good.