Blue Marble The Flyin' Ryan Brothers
CD Review by Scott "Dr. Music" Itter / 12/2005
1. Baghdad 2. Skytrain 3. Godzilla vs. Mothra 4. The Road To Galway 5. The Great Divide
6. Gaza 7. Blue Ridge 8. American Beauty 9. Snake Stretcher 10. Valley of the Kings
11. Avalon 12. Babel 13. Blowin' Free 2005
Overall rating: 8
Available from www.cdbaby.com
"When a gifted team dedicates itself to unselfish trust and combines instinct with boldness and effort, it is ready to climb." Patanjali
Somehow I don't picture the Ryan Brothers as followers of Patanjali's Yoga sutras, but I may be mistaken. The sound of this latest disc, "Blue Marble," does everything to indicate that they are at least following the advice of the above quote. Identical to their last effort, 2002's "Legacy," The Flyin' Ryan Brothers exhibit extraordinary amounts of unselfish musicianship and confidence. This is a band made up of two of the best guitar players in the world, Jimmy and Johnny Ryan; but that's really not what makes this band tick. The guitar harmonizing brothers hire on other great musicians to accompany their talent. Now, the problem that so many bands face when acquiring an all-star lineup is the fight that ensues for prominence. Almost all of your superstar players start biting and scratching to have themselves brought up more in the final mix and what usually ends up happening is catastrophic. Production levels come over as flat, and the "song" gets lost in exchange for the "look what I can do" attitude that ends up oozing from every flat, monotonous note. By listening to anything that the Ryan Brothers have done, especially this release, you can see that they obviously don't buy into that whole scene. This is a record that has a bass player like none other in William Kopecky (Kopecky, Parallel Mind, Far Corner), and he is not only allowed to play freely here, he is encouraged to let loose. There are songs on this record when Kopecky grabs the reigns and steers the song while both Ryans ride comfortably in the carriage behind him. It's all about confidence, folks. The Ryan Brothers' confidence in their own talents, as well as the talents of their supporting cast, and most of all, the confidence in the heart and strength of their songs as they are written.
The Flyin' Ryan Brothers have to be the most underrated, undiscovered act in the world. Sure, there may be great guitar players like the Ryans in every city around the world, but very few have honed their talents into a formidable music machine like the Ryans have done. This is a band that has crafted songs, and shown great sensibility and patience in their impressive writing style for many years. Being recognized by the Grammy panel and winning "Chicago's Finest Fingers" contests is nothing new to this troupe. Although they have yet to make the final Grammy ballot, it is only a matter of time if the boys can keep up the pace of releasing artistry like "Blue Marble."
The disc starts off with an artistic piece called "Baghdad," and the listener is immediately thrust into a Songwriting 101 class. With Kopecky handling bass, as well as sitar and tanpura (that's right, tanpura) duties, and the Ryans constantly alternating lead solos with pace setting harmonic guitar rhythms, the mood is entirely Middle Eastern while maintaining a hard rock instinct. As the disc moves to "Skytrain," the band is found cooking with more of a straight forward jam recipe. Again, the brothers Ryan are playing the same great style of twin guitar harmony, just this time it's through gritted teeth. A beautiful rhythm track is pushed forward by a blizzard of angry guitar licks, and a simply wicked bass chart. I know this is getting old, but I'm telling you, this Kopecky guy is not human. Get the disc and go three minutes into this song and you'll see what I mean. Popping, slapping, and bubbling bass work that most artists with their name on the cover wouldn't even allow to happen for fear of being upstaged. The Ryan brothers welcome this guy into their songs, and the invite pays off tremendously.
On the third track, the band has their own way of saying "there goes Tokyo" by giving us a monstrous tune called "Godzilla Vs. Mothra". Screeching and dive bombing guitars scattered around a flurry of more brilliant harmonies makes me want for the rest of the Godzilla films to be adapted to song. As the guys move to "The Road To Galway," the traditional Irish jig is brought into the world of rock instrumental music. This has been the Ryans trademark for some time now a nod to their Irish roots by way of their extraordinary talents. "Galway" is a bright, light and airy piece that comes at a perfect moment in the record. Most impressive is the bridge section of this song that keeps the song from going stale. The album goes to its longest and most passionate piece on the album after this. "The Great Divide" is played with a feeling that only few can capture in instrumental music. Hearing the Ryans break off and play separately, and then seamlessly join together to play in unison, only to split off once again is just pure magic. This may be one of the best twin harmony guitar pieces ever recorded. And after a display like this, the brothers thought they would share the wealth again, only this time it's drummer Bob Behnke that gets the spotlight. On a tune where Kopecky's sitar is the "voice," "Gaza" starts out with a thirty-second drum barrage.
Between this and the 1:09 drum solo "Snake Stretcher" (which has Johnny Mrozek on skins), it seems apparent that the Ryans have faith and confidence in their hired drum help also. Giving an entire title on the record to a drummer that does not have the last name of Ryan? That's pure confidence. As the record moves toward a more mood oriented vibe, the light strings of "Blue Ridge" power up. This is a very nice melody that I felt could have been cut from its 5:32 mark. I think if the tune was a more simplistic 4:00, the steady rhythm throughout the song would have been a bit more memorable. But, let it be understood that this song is about tone and texture. The longer running time gives the song a chance to create a more "lazy" or spirituality relaxed tone, which is also a nice break from the rest of the record. Another mood piece, and a song that has a light, jazzy tone, is the stunning "American Beauty." This sounds almost like a David Sanborn song that got adapted for the guitar. The twin harmonies and the delicious solos to close out the tune are beyond compare.
As the album reaches "Valley Of The Kings," and later "Babel," we get the somewhat typical rock instrumentals that are in the same vein as Satriani or Beck (Jeff). When the record returns to a slower mood piece called "Avalon," I could almost repeat my thoughts of "Blue Ridge" verbatim here also. The light drum tapping, and the dreamy tone are there to behold, but I think the tune would have been more effective at 4:00 as opposed to its mark of 5:12. But again, this is a deep mood piece that needs to transport you and keep you there in order to complete its duties; so, as I did with "Blue Ridge," I do see the reason for the extended length. The record comes to a rousing close with the band paying their respects to the act that is probably most responsible for The Flyin' Ryan Brothers existence Wishbone Ash. They tackle Ash's classic, "Blowin' Free," and it couldn't have been any better. All of the solos are razor sharp, the vocals are tender and light, and the alternate arrangement at the end of the track is pure genius.
In a world that has virtually left the rock instrumental genre behind, The Flyin' Ryan Brothers have resurrected the spirit of this great art. To hear such a complete and artistic entity such as this is oh so rare. To have two masters of their instrument sharing their stage with other players that are just as talented is also rare. All I would ask from The Flyin' Ryan Brothers in the future is that they keep making the same quality music while maintaining that unselfish mentality and, oh yeah, keep up those Yoga sessions.