With the change in weather from high temperatures to blustery storms, the Hyde Park festival village became a somewhat deserted and mud-laden location. That didn’t deter the committed and curious fans of Chicago’s Ryley Walker from scurrying beneath umbrellas to the steps of The Famous Spiegeltent for what would be a spellbinding set of acoustic folk music.
Walker was accompanied by a wonderful bassist from Melbourne who added a jazz and often a textural, earthy quality to the tousle-haired guitarist’s acoustic playing. Eschewing the coffee house vibe of being seated and serious, Walker played standing up with shuffling feet and dramatic shakes of his head as if he was trying to shed any distracting thoughts while losing himself in his songs. Walker has a habit of dismissing his earlier albums, seemingly always focussed on new songs and capturing the musical zeitgeist of the moment. Though it would have been great to hear songs from Primrose Green and its predecessor All Kinds Of You it mattered little as the new songs were just as captivating. They ranged from delicate droning mantra’s and reflections on relationships to wilder and more frenetic songs with an impressive dynamic range both vocally and instrumentally. His guitar playing was mesmerising, ranging from traditional folk fingerpicking to American Primitive ragas—always changing, fluid and highly expressive.
Walker’s between-song banter was often hilarious as he talked of his awe at playing the Sydney Opera House, mistaking possums for wombats, the shortcomings of his hometown of Chicago and those late-night moments leaning on a wall in a bar when you think you’re a poet. By adding humour and humility to the seated festival setting he broke the ice and avoided any air of a formal recital atmosphere.
Walker wears certain strong influences on his sleeve—Nick Drake, Tim Buckley, John Fahey and Bert Jansch. Indeed he played a Jansch cover as well as a wonderful version of Tim Hardin’s If I Were A Carpenter for his solo encore; rounding out a highly entertaining evening of cosmic explorations through traditional folk music.