Matthew Ryan

Concussion

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It seems like Matthew Ryan is getting quieter with each album. His first album, Mayday, introduced him as a blue-collar roots rocker. His second, East Autumn Grin, threw more singer/songwriter numbers into the mix. Concussion, Ryan's third disc, strips his sound down almost to the bone. The arrangements are subdued, for the most part, here. Ryan's simple guitar playing is complimented by subtle uses of pedal steel, cello, and harmonica. But the stark music matches up with Ryan's haunted lyrics. In his rough, sandpaper vocals, Ryan sings about troubled relationships and doomed characters in songs often focusing on matters of violence, either of physical or emotional kind. "Devastation," which features a duet with Lucinda Williams, is an unflinching post-mortem on a love that failed. A story-song like "Rabbit," much in the restrained style of Nebraska-era Springsteen, details a man on the run from the law, while "Night Watchman" creates a chilling portrait of rage. Ryan tends not to let the emotions boil over in the songs, causing them to feel a bit repressed. Coupled with the spare, dark-hued music, it makes the listening a slightly dry affair. The most energetically played tune is the rousing, rootsy rendition of the Clash's "Somebody Got Murder." While Ryan pens quite moving songs, having a bit more variety to the arrangements might make his downbeat tales even more engaging.

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