Rob Ryan

Live at Home

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In 1999, country radio was so busy looking for the next Garth Brooks or the latest Shania Twain wannabe that serious honky tonkers had a hard time getting exposure. That isn't to imply that commercial pop-country doesn't have its place or that slick crossover artists like Twain and Brooks shouldn't be played on country stations -- the fun, charming Twain is arguably the Linda Ronstadt of her generation, and one could argue that Brooks was to the 1990s what Glen Campbell and Charlie Rich were to the 1970s. Nonetheless, it's a sad state of affairs when promising young honky tonkers can't get arrested on country radio and are ignored by A&R departments at major labels. Claiming George Jones and Buck Owens as major influences should be an asset, not a liability. But thankfully, a lot of hardcore honky tonk is still being recorded -- if you're willing to do some digging and check out the alternative country and No Depression scenes, you can still find plenty of artists who are honky tonk and proud of it. Although based in Nashville in the late '90s and early 2000s, Rob Ryan obviously isn't aspiring to be a Clint Black clone. Live at Home, which was recorded at a New York club gig in 1999, shows the singer to be a die-hard honky tonker with a strong appreciation of Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, and Dwight Yoakam. Ryan is no innovator; his performances are highly derivative, but they're also heartfelt, inspired, and thoroughly enjoyable. Many of today's Nashville residents shy away from being too country. Ryan, however, is unapologetically country, and his love of classic Bakersfield honky tonk is impossible to miss on an exuberant cover of Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm" and impressive originals like "I Thought You Knew," "Bone to Pick," the humorous 'The Older I Get," and "Plain Jane" (which combines the Bakersfield sound with elements of Buddy Holly). Ryan's roots clearly run deep; his repertoire includes old-time favorites such as "The Prisoner's Song" (a number one hit for Vernon Dalhart in 1925) and "Flower in the Wildwood," and he even does some yodeling à la Hank Williams (which is one thing that separates him from Bakersfield artists because yodeling was out of style by the time Buck Owens emerged in the late '50s). Live at Home is recommended to anyone with a taste for pure, unapologetic, no-nonsense honky tonk.

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