Bill MacKay & Ryley Walker

BILL MACKAY & RYLELY WALKER return with new colloborative album SpiderBeetleBee. MARC LE BRETON asks the duo about the creative process.


Following their previous collaboration (2016’s Land Of Plenty) which comprised of live tracks assembled from a residency in Chicago, Bill MacKay and Ryley Walker’s second album SpiderBeetleBee is a more focused studio-based outing. A honed, deliberate affair that features mellifluous playing that makes subtle use of some long-standing friends and collaborators. “The tunes all began as guitar songs” says Walker.  “The idea of collaborating with our peers came upon us right before hitting the studio. Definitely a fine choice as I think it expands the music into other universes very well.” MacKay concurs “I agree, Ryan (Jewell, Tabla) and Katinka (Kleijn, Cello) brought those songs into another space that widens the entire record.”

Initial listening brings to mind the searching quality of primitive guitar (John Fahey being its greatest exponent) with the interplay of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and there’s a breadth of differing international influences that flit across the songs. ‘I Heard Them Singing’ for instance features a Requinto guitar which, says Mackay, “Has special timbres that mix so interestingly with other strings” and gives it a Spanish/Portuguese flavour.  Shindig! asked what makes for the ideal listening environment. Walker grins, “Either coming up or coming down is my preferred experience. I like the idea of the record being background music as well; put it on while you make somebody special some fried eggs, you know”

There’s also a cinematic feel to the album as a whole and MacKay agrees “I think of a lot of the music that I dig, and that I write, as being filmic. So, I think you’ve got a good handle on it there. Get a window seat on the train, and dig in. Some folks who’ve heard it pre-release swear it’s a trusty companion on long drives.”

 

So what is the origin of that strange title Bill? “Well, I was walking around Pittsburgh one day in a fairly green area and came upon this fantastical insect. I couldn’t identify it at all. A wild thing! It looked like this mad mixture of a spider, a beetle, and a bee.” Walker adds, “To me it sounds playful and I always like the idea of putting nature and beasts into words on paper”.

The release comes out on the back of a short UK tour where MacKay played in Walker’s band whilst also doing a solo stint at the start of the evening. How did that go? “Yes, that was a wonderful trip. I felt very free in the solo sets to voyage around, then… free again to do so in the band sets!” Walker recalls it as “The most magical time! (We) got the chance to play new songs which people seemed to dig.”

Shindig! also got to ask them both whether they have any guitar duo heroes? “Bert and John is a big one” Walker enthuses. “Lots of classic rock stuff like Duane Allman and Dicky Betts, Television with Richard Hell and Tom Verlaine… definitely a lot of Grateful Dead stuff too. ” MacKay states “I would second Ryley’s choices here, and add My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and Bilinda Butcher, Chet Atkins/Les Paul and Lou Reed/Sterling Morrison!”


Finally, we asked Walker and MacKay if they would provide an exclusive track by track guide to their new opus in the style of classic ’60s liner notes on the back of albums.

The Grand Old Trout

Walker: I pulled out a book of poetry Bill had around his house with this title. It spoke to me.  This magical fresh water fish.  Very Midwest and pure. I don’t eat fish though.

MacKay: A very stately gem by Ryley, I never tire of it. It is really a pristine statement.

 

Pretty Weeds Revisited

MacKay: The mystery in Celtic music & art…very alluring, and this song aimed at catching a bit of it. The title referred to all of us, people living…pretty weeds…flawed yet often wonderful…struggling to work it out

 

Lower Chestnut

Walker: A short tune that’s an ode to the bizarre characters of the underground streets downtown Chicago. Good place to piss and drink a beer away from the police above the ground where the shoppers are shopping and the people spending.

 

Naturita

Walker: Sweet A side closer. Named after a rural town in Colorado where I bought a microwave burrito and ate it on the foothills of the Rocky Mountains

MacKay: A slice of hazy sun through the pines. Elegiac afternoon. Abstract though clear as the stars.

 

I Heard Them Singing

Walker: (We) came up with this in the studio. Tuned my guitar all weird and we came up with this sweet east meets west Melody. Ryan Jewell sends it home on percussion.

 

Stretching My Dollar In Plano

Walker: Another spontaneous composition. Reminds me of a Ry Cooder ‘Paris, Texas’ soundtrack sort of thing. I love this song.

MacKay: Yeah, this was another spot where we used maximum freedom as a platform. I see the sea, the desert and the city in it.

 

Lonesome Traveler

MacKay: This one is dear to me. It’s dedicated to Jack Kerouac who wrote a book using this same title. Ryley played a wonderful solo on it.

Walker: I’m probably the worst guitar soloist in the world but somehow, I pulled off a cool solo where it sort of seems like I know how to play! Ha ha!

 

Dragonfly

Walker: Cello on here slays hard. A psychedelic tango where the sun melts into your eardrum.

MacKay:This one is another one where the mood took over. We hit it pretty intensely with our friend Katinka Kleiijn joining on cello. It’s a bracing and haunted air…a kind of short film in song…I feel the characters in it. A fitting end I think to the record, drawing you in as it disappears in its smoke.

SpiderBeetleBee is released today on Drag City

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Ryley Walker to team up with Danny Thompson

A match made in heaven


 

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Fresh from a recent UK and European jaunt earlier this year and with the acclaim in many “best albums of the year” awards for Primrose Green, Ryley Walker will return to the UK in February for what will be a very special tour. He’ll be joined onstage by the legendary double-bassist Danny Thompson, one of the founding members of Pentangle, who has performed with the likes of Richard Thompson, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, John Martyn and many more, helping to create the lyrical and jazz-flecked astral folk that so influenced Walker close to half a century later. As well as performing works from his two acclaimed albums, the shows will likely include some new Ryley Walker material. Expect a memorable night as these two immensely talented artists come together to create something exceptional.

In advance of this, Shindig! asked Ryley how their first meeting went and what can be expected of the pairing: “Excellent! Me and Danny met up for tea in his nice little suburban home and had long conversations about blue note records and his wife made the most banging squash soup I’ve ever had! I’m in good hands. Expect a heady evening with each gig!”

Dates/info below:

Wednesday 17th February – BRISTOL – St George’s
Thursday 18th February – OXFORD – The Bullingdon
Friday 19th February – BIRMINGHAM – The Rainbow
Saturday 20th February – LONDON – Bush Hall
Sunday 21st February – BARTON-UPON-HUMBER – Ropery Hall
Tuesday 23rd February – STOCKTON-ON-TEES – The Arc
Wednesday 24th February – CLITHEROE – The Grand
Thursday 25th February – LIVERPOOL – Philharmonic Music Room
Friday 26th February – LEEDS – Brudenell Social Club
Saturday 27th February – FARNDALE, NORTH YORKSHIRE – The Band Room
Sunday 28th February – MANCHESTER – Band On The Wall

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Ryley Walker – Hoxton Square Bar And Kitchen, London

US Jazz/folk young gun stuns London crowd
Hoxton Bar & Grill,  02/09/15


 

imageThe autumnal rain that precedes Ryley Walker’s set is apt tonight. There’s a joyful, freeing feel to his latest work mixed with a creeping sense of foreboding dark clouds across the horizon. His music is a perfect gumbo of West Coast sun dappled psych-folk mixed with free jazz inflections and a lyrical content that, not unlike the Soho Folk boom of the mid-late ’60s aims to reflect the conflicting nature of everyday life.

However, don’t be mistaken in thinking it’s simply a re-enactment of a long lost vibe. In the live context, Walker’s compositions are a platform for things to go well beyond the confines of any Nick Drakeisms that plague a musician who utilises the fingerpicking acoustic guitar style as their primary weapon. His original material has been growing in stature amongst those in the know, and there’s an anticipation to see how the songs have evolved during the touring process.

A notorious vinyl fanatic — for proof, see his involvement in the recently reissued primitive guitar gem on Tompkins Square; John Hulbert’s Opus III – at 26, Walker has grown up during the emergence of a truly creative period in US-independent guitar-based music. He is continually discovering (via John Fahey and Sonny Sharrock, amongst others) the sources and more extreme ends of what his instrument can do and emphatically displays his capabilities during a spellbinding set.

Perhaps the difficulty to date has been that what he does live hasn’t quite come across in the recorded work of his initial two long players but, judging by set-opener ‘Sullen Mind’ which draws the crowd into silence, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before it will. Taking the bold move of playing this new song to open with shows the sense of fearlessness he has. ‘On The Banks Of The Old Kishwaukee’ follows; along with the title track of his second LP, ‘Primrose Green’. However, tonight they’re transmogrified into paeans that transcend the original recordings by a country mile. The former feels like it starts a little further up the river, evoking the sights and sounds of the Mississippi to a small, packed room on the other side of the world, whilst the latter (“We’re playing the hits tonight!” he jokes) takes a sideways lurch into a shuffling old school, almost Doors-like groove for several minutes before the introductory riff is played and becomes recognisable from the record’s languorous take.

There are no slouches in his band either; Brian J Sulpizio’s melodious yet fierce guitar work complements the more ferocious elements of Walker’s frenzied strumming throughout, whilst also equally able to provide a lilting tone to ‘Primrose Green’. The sound is anchored by Anton Hatwich’s Double Bass and Ståle Liavik Solberg’s drums, providing dexterous fingerwork and shimmering cymbal action respectively on another as yet unreleased song, ‘Funny Thing She Said’. Keyboardist Ben Boye, who has been Walker’s foil in the musical direction for many of the set’s wilder moments, draws out unearthly sounds in the song’s beginning, even going so far as to use a set of house keys on the keys(!) which gives an ethereal quality to the proceedings.

Despite it being early days, Walker is already being heralded in some circles for taking on the mantle of psych-folk. But, it’s not where he’s at, it’s where he will take it that makes him so thrilling. It’s also telling that only one song (‘Clear The Sky’) is played from his 18-month old debut, All Kinds Of You. The sound Walker is developing continues to captivate. With a voice that veers between mellifluous and delicate – as displayed during a beatific solo spot covering Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ and John Martyn’s take on ‘Cocain’ – to the guttural, primal howls and yelps on ‘Summer Dress’, his intensity is mesmerising, whilst the band can only do their damnedest to keep the train on the track. No matter how seemingly reckless it gets, the beauty of it all is that Walker doesn’t know any more than the lucky few who attended this event, what’s going to happen next.

Bowing out with a sublime, gossamer-light cover of Van Morrison’s ‘Fair Play’, there’s no doubting the crowd’s rapt appreciation, having witnessed a near flawless set of old, new and borrowed tunes.

It’s great to see him at this emerging stage of his career. Watch Ryley Walker go – it’s going to be a gloriously bumpy ride!

​​​​​​​​​​M Le Breton

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