On her debut album, Passing Thru, Cambridge, Massachusetts, export Audrey Ryan sifts through decades of musical influences in an attempt to create something unique and engaging. At times, she comes pretty close.
Upon first listen, the disc sounds anything but formulaic. With its liberal use of jazz progressions, quick tempo shifts and a vast sea of musical influences, the album has myriad sounds and reflections. Ryan and co. combine folk, funk, jazz, Latin and soul in the course of 13 tracks -- a pretty ambitious undertaking.
Ryan is obviously a well-schooled musician, displaying versatility and efficiency on both guitar and violin. A seasoned singer, she slides through the diverse material with ease. But ultimately, her vocal acrobatics leave you feeling that you've heard it before, only more convincingly. From the start of the CD, it's obvious that Ryan owes a massive debt to Joni Mitchell's upper-register vocal melodies and penchant for musical eclecticism.
Backing Ryan on the album is a band of technically impressive musicians. Casey Abrams supplies short, punchy bass lines that play off Peter Kelly's agile kit work remarkably well. Al Marra's distinctive vibraphone work nicely augments Ryan's vocal inflections.
By far the most interesting track on Passing Thru is "Watch," which is powered by Abrams' James Jamerson-style bass line. Littered with electronic textures, the tune is a big departure from the rest of the cuts on the record. It seems like the best fit for Ryan. While other compositions are good, her material is most engaging when injected with the odd chord change or rhythmic shift.
As an emerging artist, Ryan still has plenty of time to develop a sound all her own. If she successfully reins in her obvious influences, chances are she'll do just that. Catch Ryan this Wednesday at Nectar's.