The members of Julianna Ryan’s band, including the artist who designed the cover art to her debut album Sister all met and became friends in the music department at Nassau Community College located in New York. Ryan earned her degree in English from the City of New York, Queens College and her knowledge of poetry and literature feeds her vocabulary and use of meter, as well as her ability to shape language into an effective story (or songs in this case). Her focus of study at Nassau Community College and Adelphi University was the voice and she became very successful at it. Later, Ryan sang the lead role in two operas and just after listening to the first few songs on Sister, you can tell – this artist has got the chops – not to mention outstanding vibrato control. The songs on the album were crafted in the months following the 2016 Presidential election. Ryan’s energy was smoldering and bitter, and the songs came out easily. She blends personal sadness with public anger when she writes, and the songs reflect Ryan’s dark sides and humor. Musically, the seven-song collection is a blend of sounds and styles that range from Broadway to Smashing Pumpkins to Martha Wainwright.
The opener “Nina” which contains some explicit lyrics, starts with cooling “ooo-ooo” vocals and then divides the lyrics up in a talk-sing style on the verses. Structurally there is no set rhythm, at least traditionally speaking – it’s more free form, like a rap form, but more acoustically and pop-ish, not in the hip-hop style. But then, things change almost midway – Ryan breaks out into a full, bright rhythm guitar as members Gregory Pettit (drums), Adam Baine (bass), Kaia Bergsohn(keys) and Pettit (keys) come crashing in alt-indie rock style. The interplay between Ryan’s voice and the other musicians is quite a remarkable sound. “Woman of Worth” begins with an echoing acoustic, deep warm bass and crisp drumming. At this point, a few other female artists came to mind as I listen more to Ryan’s style of singing, singers like Alanis Morrisette and Fiona Apple, but with the delicate higher soprano qualities of Joni Mitchell.
Like on the next song, the album’s title track, “Sister.” The way in which the instruments were written and arranged, along with Ryan’s voice, has this singer/songwriter folk rock, free-form quality to it, like a Mitchell song. If you’re familiar with Joni Mitchell’s work, then you’ll know what I mean. “I Never Learned” features Ryan narrating her words on the verses and singing on the chorus. The story seems to be about hating oneself and all the aftermath that happens after a relationship is over with. Explicit lyrics on this one, too. The next tune “November” has them too – but if that doesn’t bother you, then just ignore what I said. This song mostly features Ryan and her guitar and some creative vocal layering as well. Her guitar playing rolls along nicely and has a beautiful melody, too. All around, I think this was my fav.
“Find Some Peace” finds Pettit and/or Bergsohn making good use of the keyboard. This one has a soulful jazz style to it and damn, one hell of a deep message. It is Ryan’s slowest song but also her most honest and open-hearted - my view, I think. The last tune brings the members of her band together in this funny as hell “Zombie Song” again with some choice words. Although, Ryan’s lyrics are quite humorous, it doesn’t seem like she was kidding about what she was singing about. I mean, she sounded kind of pissed off – as in don’t cross her all you zombies out there.
Anyway, in a few words, Sister has a good amount of variety and musical styles for a short album. Ryan’s singing and songwriting is quite exceptional, no doubt too, by showcasing her talent in expressive and impassioned ways.
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