by Eric Harabadian, Contributing Blogger
Album Review of Jimmy Ryan: Astral Café (Ryanetics Music Ltd.)
Cut from the same cloth as those progressive rockers like Jeff Beck, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Al Dimeola, Vinnie Moore, Steve Morse, et al., Jimmy Ryan has been crafting that hearty fusion guitar sound since the ’90s. He first gained notoriety with his guitarist brother Johnny as The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers. After a series of group and solo records he culminated all his axe-bending efforts into this 2021 release Astral Café. And if you are a fan of the aforementioned guitar gods, be prepared for a real treat in what Jimmy Ryan brings to the café table. He’s kind of bluesy, jazzy, certainly rocky, and all points in between. The leader handles all guitars, bass and vocals on the album, along with co-producer Dan Van Schindel on drums/percussion and Johnny Ryan on one track.
Thematically, the mostly instrumental album features a number of spacey titles and sounds, but Jimmy will also knock you out with his incredibly facile and booming voice. Astral Café kicks off with the driving Satriani-influenced “Starlord.” There are some smooth harmonized leads supported by Van Schindel’s nimble and relentless drumming. “Shatterbrain” follows and spotlights Jimmy’s penchant for great melodies and rhythm work.
The first musical detour comes in the form of his totally unique and revamped cover of Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads.” It’s a very muscular and visceral take on, arguably, one of the most famous tunes in the blues lexicon. His wah-wah guitar licks and clear guttural vocals transcend the genre in many ways.
Back to outer space, “Earthrise” has a slow and percolating feel that is ethereal and atmospheric. “Skydance” puts emphasis on melody and switches from a moderate to up tempo vibe in the mid-section. “Black Ice” is somewhat similar in tempo but more orchestrated, with changes in various portions of the song.
Jimmy delves back into his blues roots for a song popularized by Muddy Waters called “I’m Ready.” His throaty vocals and hard rock feel revitalize the song for modern ears. Back to back tracks “Dulcinea” and “Berserker” spotlight layered guitars and Black Sabbath-like riffage, respectively. And Jimmy further seals his classic rock roots with nods to Led Zeppelin on the bluesy “Plectrumelectrum.”
Another outstanding riff-fest can be found in the meticulously constructed instrumental “Dreadhulk.” It’s a relatively short piece that mixes angular melodies, with beefy bass lines for a succinct and memorable track.
“Celestial Voice” is dedicated to the late drummer Neil Peart and, indeed, makes musical references to that progressive Rush style. Here, Jimmy modulates his voice from a gritty façade to more of an airy and eloquent approach. The leader is joined by Johnny Ryan for the album closer “Quiet Flight.” This features their twin guitar attack, not unlike Wishbone Ash or Blue Oyster Cult. Johnny steps up to give his brother a run for his money and it really swings in spots too.
Jimmy Ryan is a consummate guitarist and composer that flawlessly unearths many musical styles. He covers a lot of fertile fusion-like territory, with ample grace, passion and tasteful finesse.