Did you know that Ryan Driver has a drink named after him? Yeah,
called Rye and Driver - which is ostensibly a screwdriver with a shot
of Canadian rye - and despite the fact that the drink was neither named
nor conceived by him, it still speaks volumes of his unique and
confounding legacy. Although the thought of this drink that combines
vodka and rye is at first a little weird, the result is quite tasteful
and it’s apropos that such a drink should be named after such a person.
Having known Ryan for a few years now, I just heard of and tried this
drink last week for the first time.
If you've had the pleasure of spending time in
Mr. Driver's company or attended one of his shows in any one of his
many bands - the Silt, the Reveries, Blah Blah 666 and his own Ryan
Driver Quartet, to name a few - you will know that what he brings to
the table is something implacable, even enigmatic... And although the
genre of music performed spans a slew of old-time and contemporary
genres and moods - from folk to free jazz, bombast to balladry - Ryan's
presence is always assured and deftly considered, never pedestrian.
With his new album Who's Breathing?, Ryan
showcases some of his new songs which, not unlike the drink that's
named after him, are both eclectic and sweetly intoxicating. The first
half is a top-heavy, bleary-eyed amble through the metaphysical country
moves made familiar through his work in The Silt. Central to these
songs is Ryan's heady, almost surrealist lyrics, which traipse
commonplace folk themes on the slant and uneven ground of a funhouse.
Here his way with a turn of phrase demonstrates its dexterity amid
slinking caterpillar accompaniments (including a rest stop-style pedal
steel and even an English horn pilfered from the AM waves).
The second half assumes the mentalist lounge
approach, that particular sound not unfamiliar to those who attend the
monthly Ryan Driver Quartet appearances at the Tranzac bar in Toronto.
Mr. Driver's own brand of smoky, downcast jazz meanders in a slack void
between half-speed piano bar exercises and subterranean psychedelia
cast in twilight. On piano, Ryan is accompanied primarily by bass,
drums, and Martin Arnold's peculiar, intuitive guitar playing. But, as
with the first half, it is Ryan's song writing that takes center stage;
teeming with double-meanings and verbal loopholes, excavating the alien
and quietly phosphorescent landscape of the soul.
It is with immense love that this cycle of songs
is transmitted to you over bleating pastures and through the blear of
rain and sleet. An album for almost all occasions and another landmark
in Ryan's unchartered career.
- Andrew Zukerman, August 2010