Ryan Lee is an artist from Minnesota. His first release entitled The Pride Before the Fall came out in 2005 and in 2013 he released Always a River. Always a River is primarily a folk album that occasionally likes to rock out into unexpected territory. The album is long at thirteen tracks and requires some patience. I wouldn't say it’s hard to appreciate it just felt especially long to me and may have worked better as two EPs.
Always a River was a mixed experience for me. I though Lee’s vocals were at their best at a comfortable octave range where he wasn’t straining his voice. The production was on the lo-fi side. It worked well during the more subtle moments.
The album starts with “ABANDON.” It begins with vocals and guitar. This is really where his vocals shine. You can hear the emotion in his voice and I felt his delivery seemed effortless. I had a harder time appreciating his vocals when they got into a higher vocal range. “WITH A WOLF” is a fun, celebratory song while “TOWARD THE SUN” is a pretty straightforward folk song.
“MIGRATE” was a highlight. The song gets slightly experimental and it pays off. I was reminded of Donovan towards the beginning of the song which I enjoyed but what really got me was some of the tones and textures. There was a distorted dissonance at points and around the three-minute-mark gets into post-rock territory. “MIGRATE” is arguably the most ambitious song on the album.
As the album progresses there is still so much to take in. The stillness of “IMMIGRANT” was quite beautiful and “NATURE BOY” is one of the more inventive and emotionally resonant tracks.
Always a River is far from perfect but it has some inspired moments you won’t want to miss. There is a lot to digest but it is worth the effort.
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