We're so busy trying to bag the interchangeable Next Big Indie things that the really special catch can easily slip through the net these days. Often simply because they don't conform to the (increasingly conservative) prevailing trends.
So it's hugely refreshing to discover a performer like GAVIN RYAN kicking so gloriously against the pricks. Armed with a voice like a stunning alliance of Ray LaMontagne and prime era Paul Rodgers, this young Dubliner comes brandishing a bulging bag of earthy blues, tender balladry and compelling arcana and his second album 'Love And Punishment' throws the anaemic efforts of the headline grabbers likes of Snow Patrol into even sharper relief.
Ryan's 2006 debut 'Broken Blues' was a fine record, but its' follow-up is in another league altogether. Recorded predominantly live in the studio (Dublin's famous Windmill Lane) with a band capable of both enormous restraint and sizzling sonic overload and visiting all points in between, it's exhilarating from wall to wall and – if there's any justice left at all – really ought to introduce its' author to a far wider audience.
Significant portions of 'Love And Punishment' rock significantly harder than anything from 'Broken Blues'. Opening duo 'Baby I Was Right' and 'G-Jam Blues' really cook with gas. Both swagger along, riding bumper grooves with charisma to spare, while Derek O'Connor's magnificent sax on 'G-Jam Blues' adds an anthentic Southern Soul sucker punch. 'Lonesome As A Cloud' is arguably even better, with the band building an ominous crescendo for over two minutes before drummer Steve Davis's snare finally batters its way in and an electric storm pours down all over the song.
Ryan's voice has already been displaying an awesome guttural majesty, but it's on the esoteric delights of songs like 'Midnight Blues' and 'Roadhouse Blues' where he really excels. 'Midnight Blues' is a Tom Waits-ian slice of swamp brilliance, riding a wonked and diseased groove around Rod Paterson's jazzy double bass and Davis's junkyard percussion. The visceral slash of the Wilko Johnson-style guitar figure is a nice counterpoint, but its' Ryan's unearthly growl that really pulls you up short. He sounds a lot closer to Clarksdale than Clontarf on 'Roadhouse Blues' too. Despite the title, it's certainly not a Doors cover, and its' vivid lyrical splurge (“bitch on a leash, powder black sky, scattered a' winking stars”) is almost Beefheartian in design.
Wonderful though all these songs are, though, the album's heart really lies in its' ballads and there are several truly breathtaking moments along the way. This writer recalls 'Sweet Santa Cruz' vividly from the two shows he's seen Ryan perform and it's equally captivating on record, with the band's restrained performance, Brian Connor's sweet bleed or organ and one of Gavin's finest vocals all bang on the money. Equally showstopping are the jazzy, around-midnight creep of 'Sad Brown Eyes' and the lush, Van Morrison-style balladry of 'Sadie' where sessioneer extraordinaire Bill Shanley's spectral pedal steel is the perfect foil for Ryan's poised and mature vocal.
Whether white men can really sing the blues is usually a question which would draw a categorical 'No!' from this writer, but in Gavin Ryan we have one of those truly rare exceptions who can buck the trend with authenticity to spare. As the title suggests, 'Love And Punishment' proffers both the sweetest of caresses and merciless emotional bloodletting, but it's never less than wholly compelling and its' aim is always true.