Well, here we go again, another singer-songwriter plucked from the Springsteen/Dylan branch of the rock ‘n’ roll family tree. Like we need it, right? But from seemingly out of nowhere comes Matthew Ryan, definitely not just another coffeehouse rocker. Hell, his debut Mayday just might be the best singer-songwriter rock kinda thing to come around since Freedy Johnston’s Can You Fly? in 1990. Not that Johnston and Ryan sound at all alike — Freedy’s more an Elvis Costello type, while Ryan does the gritty, blue collar, American beer kind of thing, but you know what I mean.
Springsteen’s Tunnel Of Love might be a good reference point for Mayday, not only because of the lonesome tone of the hushed, acoustic half of this collection, but because Mayday is also fueled by the pain of romantic loss and the ensuing self-examination. More a confessioneer than a storyteller, Ryan wallows in the rawest of moments, just as the reality of loss kicks in, just as picking up the pieces is the largest, most garish thing on the horizon. “From my easy chair/I rub my three-day beard/And give that thousand yard stare/As I recall all the time and money we spent/Before I became irrelevant,” he sings in the dour “Irrelevant.” Later, on the lilting, mandolin-driven “Dam,” Ryan confesses, “One day soon it’ll wash you away from me,” and then finally concludes, “That’s the best damn thing that can happen to you.”
Mayday is also very much a rock record, as Ryan steers a steady backing crew through some crisp, overdriven rock that’s even more gnarly when the singer’s throaty, angry voice kicks into high gear. Muscular tunes such as “Guilty” and “Comfort” are powered by anger and betrayal, but eventually, it all comes back a thought like, “Nothing very good or bad ever last.” But extraordinary songs last, and if Mayday is any indication, Matthew Ryan should be around for a while.