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Ryland Moranz: XO, 1945
by George Graham
(Fat Possum Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 3/17/2021)
When one talks about Americana in music, that also includes a fair number of Canadian artists, going back to Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. This week we have a notable album from an artist from the province of Alberta, Ryland Moranz, whose new second solo album is called XO, 1945.
Ryland Moranz has worked as touring musician, sideman and producer. He has been a member of the band Rebeltone Sound, headed by Leeroy Stagger. He released his debut solo album, Hello New Old World in 2016. The new release has a distinctly folk-influenced sound, both in terms of the instrumentation including Moranz’ clawhammer-style banjo, and in terms of lyrics that often tell stories, real and imagined. He is an articulate wordsmith who says he has been influenced by great writers like Hemmingway, and Kurt Vonnegut, and also some of the songwriting greats like Townes Van Zandt and John Prine. The songs range from old-timey folk to more electric instrumentation, from rock influenced to some ragtime style guitar.
On XO, 1945, Moranz is joined by his group he calls His Darkest Secrets, who overlap with the Rebeltone Sound members. Moranz himself plays a several instruments, with his banjo being prominent, along with a little electric guitar and acoustic guitars of various descriptions, plus some mandolin. While sometimes the arrangements can hint at rock with drums, the general texture is distinctly toward the folk end, with acoustic bass, some fiddle and other elements of old traditional sounds being prominent.
The dozen songs on the album range from fairly standard love songs, to a tribute to a fallen songwriter, to some philosophical musings.
Opening is an original composition that sounds very much like an old traditional song. Where Are My Blue Eyes with Moranz playing his banjo clawhammer style. <<>>
A contrast to that is the next piece, If I Had Wings with a more rock-oriented setting, but with lyrics that are straight out 1960s-style folk. It’s an attractive mix. <<>>
Dangerous Man is a kind of old-timey style story song, with banjo and a fiddle, as played by Calvin Volrath. <<>>
Another kind of classic-style song is Lay Me Down, done with a folkie’s acoustic guitar and harmonica accompaniment. <<>>
There Ain’t New Songs was inspired by the life and death of songwriter Blaze Foley, who was shot and killed by gunfire in a dispute. <<>>
One of the more interesting songs from a lyrical standpoint is Israel, about a pair of lovers from opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. <<>>
Among the highlights of the album is Run, Rabbit, Run, given a classic acoustic bluesy treatment, with lyrics embodying some adept folksy philosophizing. <<>>
Stolen Land is the closest thing to a protest song on the album, in this case the treatment of Native Americans. <<>>
Canadian singer-songwriter Ryland Moranz’ new second solo album XO, 1945 is a first rate collection of well-written songs most in the classic folk style, performed in a tasteful, understated largely acoustic context, but not without a little rock influence here and there with some drums and bass. Moranz has the offhand vocal style of a roots rocker and rambling philosopher. Indeed he draws inspiration from artists like Townes VanZandt and John Prine, without aping their styles.
Our grade for sound quality is a B-minus. Most of the acoustic instruments are well-recorded, but the lead vocal has annoying what audio engineers call clipping distortion throughout the album, whenever Moranz raises his voice a little. It spoils the otherwise intimate sound of the album.
There is no shortage of singer-songwriters on the scene, but in the case of someone who has mastered the art form as well as Ryland Moranz, there’s always room for more.
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