Guitarist Ryley Walker follows All Kinds of You, his 2014 debut full-length, by delving deeper into some of the abstract jazz and psych-inflected folk-rock that permeated several of its tracks. On Primrose Green -- his debut for Dead Oceans -- he doesn't worry about putting his own signature on his tunes; this record is all about playing music he loves with people he respects. Though these are original songs, their inspirational roots lie in late-'60s and early-'70s sources. He's found a host of willing Chicago collaborators from the worlds of jazz and improv to assist, including cellists Fred Lonberg-Holm and Whitney Johnson, vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, drummer Frank Rosaly, keyboardist Ben Boye, upright and electric bassist Anton Hatwich, and electric guitarist Brian Sulpizio. Less than a minute into the opening title track, one can hear the very spirit of Tim Buckley -- one of several Walker muses here -- coming through the ether (or smoke, such as it were, since it is titled for a particular strain of pot). Eastern modes and droning psych are rung out on a 12-string, piano, electric guitars, vibes, and upright bass (the latter recalling Danny Thompson, who played with Buckley on the London concert issued as Dream Letter). Walker's voice swoops and sails, floats and hovers through his words about getting high. "Summer Dress" moves on (a bit) to widen the circle and embrace John Martyn's early-'70s sound inside Buckley's elastic chamber jazz approach. Sulpizio's guitar and Adasiewicz's vibes send this one into a darkly grooving stratosphere. "Same Minds" is so silvery and mercurial, one can feel Martyn's ghost in the mix. The instrumental "Love Can Be Cruel" evokes Brian Auger's sense of space and motion with wafting electronic noise grounding the tune in the 21st century. Speaking of Auger, the twilit psych-jazz of "Sweet Satisfaction" recalls the keyboardist's Trinity band with singer Julie Driscoll (now Tippetts), though Buckley's sense of elongated glossolalia still holds sway over the singer's vocal. Walker's killer fingerstyle guitar artistry isn't left off this record; it's present to stellar effect on "Griffiths Bucks Blues," "On the Banks of the Old Kishwaukee," "The High Road" (a duet with Lonberg-Holm), and the closing "Hide in the Roses." The latter track is informed by Bert Jansch's and Davy Graham's readings of the British Isles folk tradition. It's these rootsier tunes that add glue to the sensual, stoned, free-spirited cuts to make this a cohesive album. With its ready absorption of, homage to, and engagement with the past, Walker's skills as a guitarist and arranger make Primrose Green as musically compelling as it is willfully indulgent.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek