Album review: RYAN McGARVEY – Heavy Hearted

RYAN McGARVEY – Heavy Hearted

Self release [Release date 27.11.18]

Ryan McGarvey has made a name as a subtle blues-rock guitarist with an emotional lyrical pull.

‘Heavy Heated’ feel more of stab at the mainstream than his previous studio albums. Up to this point it was noticeable that there was always a significant gap between his studio albums. You’d like to think he was taking his time crafting his excellent albums, though the truth is he was probably busy touring relentlessly.

2018 marks a major departure in his release strategy. For no sooner did we get his first live album ‘Live At Swinghouse’, before he’s popped up with a new studio album that eschews the ethereal melodies for a more straight ahead rock-blues style.

Given his dynamic sensibilities it’s quite a change, but Ryan has the chops, intensity and band to pull it off, as evidenced by the blistering ‘Houston’.

He tops and tails the album with a delicate acoustic touch and levers us straight into the road tested boogie ‘Feel Like I Do’, complete with a gritty toned solo that flows like a mighty river, with the B3 solo acting as a buttress.

He is vocal captures the angst ridden feel of the song, even if as on the rip-roaring, but heartfelt ‘Broke My Heart’ he has a tendency to split vowels with his vocal phrasing, on an otherwise bristling album.

Then there’s the booming stomp and fleet fingered guitar work of ‘Right Side Of The Dirt’, on which his riffs closely shadow his phrasing. He builds up a tension with a whispered hook leading to a jangling guitar break and bigger toned resolving solo, which is still remarkable for its lightness of touch.

‘Heavy Hearted’ is McGarvey’s 5th album in eleven years and it’s almost as if he’s finally taken off the gloves off and decided to go for it. This might explain the unreconstructed blues of ‘I Should Have Known Better’ on which he toughens up his tone and intensity on a number underpinned by stellar his pounding rhythm section of drummer Logan Nix and bassist Carmine Rojas, who provide an object lesson in always supporting the song.

There’s a fluidity to Ryan’s playing that gives the album its punch. He rarely wastes a note, makes the most of the dynamics a song offers him and further colours his material with subtle tonal inflections.

He’s at his best on the boogie instrumental ‘Houston’, which is built on a restless rhythm pattern as his guitar slashes its way through a frenzied instrumental with a stinging attack on a rockaboogie outing with slight fazing on his guitar

A delicious exuberant avalanche of notes cast him in the role of guitar slinger, rather than his previous persona as a blues craftsman. Here, he’s stripped things back to the essence of a power trio on an incendiary track that illuminates the album.

He’s altogether more restrained on the acoustic slide of ‘Six Feet In The Ground’, to remind us that in between the pounding notes he’s also a delicate player with real poise.

He thoughtfully juxtaposes the above track with another album highlight, the extended ‘Ain’t Enough Whisky’, on which he attacks a big sounding slow blues with real intensity and verve. He chooses his notes carefully and lets them float and fill the track before they gently fade, only for his emotive solo to rise as he adds a rainbow of tonal textures on the closest he comes to the style with which he originally made his name.

Hell, anybody who can convince the listener of the veracity of his feelings through a recycled whisky metaphor has really got something going for them.

Up to this point, Ryan’s has enjoyed a slow build career trajectory. He’s never been in an apparent rush and each album has shown us something new.

‘Heavy Hearted’ eschews that slow build with a batch of songs that celebrate both his guitar playing prowess and the band as a whole. It’s almost as if he’s channelled the best part of a decade’s worth of touring into a ‘live in the studio’ project that captures every nuance of a top road tested band.

He offers one more final example of tonal contrast on the sludgy ‘A Walk In The Rain’ and the bubbling psychedelic drone of ‘Surrender’, before his eloquent musical journey breaches its destination on the acoustic and aptly titled ‘Conclusion’.

Ryan McGarvey may be ‘Heavy Hearted’ but his guitar playing suggests otherwise. ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 20 September 2020.

UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 ( BST, GMT+1) as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 22 September 2020.

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