CD Review of From a Late Night High-Rise by Matthew Ryan

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Release updates on Matthew Ryan:
From a Late Night High-Rise
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Released: 2006

Matthew Ryan’s debut, 1997’s May Day, was a terrific little piece of indie roots rock that somehow wound up being released by A&M; before the album slid into the gaping maw of public indifference – on skids capably greased by a label that had no idea what to do with it – Ryan suffered the inevitable New Springsteen declarations that always seem to accompany a no-frills, sepia-tinted album from a debut artist.

They never help, and they didn’t here. After another release for A&M, the label corrected the error of its ways and cut Ryan loose to wander the indie wilderness, an environment for which his music was probably always better-suited anyway. In the years since, he’s released a series of good-to-inconsistent albums that have played well to the “Paste” crowd, but haven’t really hinted at greatness. And all of the above is only a small part of why this, his ninth solo release, is such a wonderful surprise.

Equal parts harrowing and beautiful, From a Late Night High-Rise represents the ragged, tearstained culmination of Ryan’s career to this point. It’s the kind of record that requires of the listener some actual time and attention, but rewards those investments richly; once you’ve spent a few hours with this album, prepare to keep going back for more.

Ryan’s wounded rasp might be more of a blunt instrument than a “real” singing voice, but it’s perfect for his stories of mistakes made and lives shattered. The album opens with the lines “It’s follow the leader, baby / That’s how it’s gonna be / If you really wanna get lost, then follow me,” and that sets the tone for what’s to follow. These are spare, haunting songs, in which Ryan’s shaky whisper floats, ghostlike, over spare arrangements – a melancholy piano here, a lonesome guitar there – and redemption is always tantalizingly, heartbreakingly out of reach.

Few albums in recent memory have been as perfectly, poetically titled as From a Late Night High-Rise. It emits the warmth of faith, hope and love against the vast, chilling uncertainty of endless night. The light is unsteady – at times, it’s little more than the neon glow from an upper-story window; at others, the comforting pulse of a rooftop beacon – but Ryan never lets us lose sight of it.

~Jeff Giles