Course in Fable
Apr 02, 2021
The pitch for Ryley Walker’s Course in Fable is unusual and slightly befuddling: A Chicago-bred, New York-based troubadour channels his ambitious heroes and shoots to craft swirling progressive arrangements that go beyond the obvious. Though it occasionally misses this lofty mark, it works well enough.
From the moment it begins, Course in Fable is jazzily complex and becomes increasingly more progressive with every song. In an age where progressive rock has become stereotypically confined to hyper-snobby circles, Walker’s jazzy and accessible approach to neo-prog is refreshing. Of course, his accompanying band—which includes Bill MacKay (The Derek Trucks Band, The String Cheese Incident) and Ryan Jewell (Warren Byrom, Eamon Fogarty)—and the production and engineering of John McEntire (Tortoise, the Sea and the Cake) also do a great job of supporting yet not overshadowing his outlook.
On “Striking Down Your Big Premiere,” Walker blends open riffs with skippy, jazzy passages reminiscent of King Crimson. Later, he continues that trend, evoking shades of Jethro Tull (and, subtly, Genesis) on “A Lenticular Slap,” a song which has lyrics almost as wonderfully confounding as its instrumentation (“Any work release isn’t true / An egghead breaks their mantra and converts to awful”).
Course in Fable only gets more intriguing from there; “Axis Bent” features delightfully clean, slippy guitar lines and a fun, galloping chorus while “Clad With Bunk” demonstrates Walker’s ability to be diverse even within the same track, moving smoothly from regal folk to bluesy grunge within seconds. The record’s last two tracks—the cryptically named “Pond Scum Ocean” and “Shiva With Dustpan”—close things out underwhelmingly, with the first of the two meandering in dull repetition before eventually finding itself grounded in a comfortably clappy rhythm.
Though Walker’s intentions are clearly very pure, Course in Fable seems to extend itself a little too far at times, getting caught up in frequent genre-switching that makes it a sometimes disorienting listen. But, since prog fans are used to being jostled around in musical spontaneity, its divergence isn’t as shocking as perhaps it would’ve been if presented differently. Overall, Walker’s fifth solo effort is a perfectly imperfect package with significant potential and just enough expanse to keep things interesting. (www.ryleywalker.com)
Author rating: 7/10
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Average reader rating: 7/10