Over the past three years, Matthew Ryan has produced a fascinating trilogy of discs, From A Late Night High Rise, Matthew Ryan vs. The Silver State and Dear Lover, which matched with confessional singer-songwriter tunes with haunting folk-tronica sonic background. For his solo appearance at L.A.’s Molly Malone’s, however, it was just him on stage, accompanied only with his guitar and an occasional harmonica.
In his raspy, hushed voice, Ryan shared a searing set of life-scarred songs, like “They Were Wrong,” “American Dirt,” “Dear Lover” and “The Wilderness.” His emotionally intimate tunes feature such evocative lyrics as “I want the dream that we never had,” “I don’t feel much lately but that’s how I hide,” and “we were in the front row at the sad last goodbye.” There’s a little bit of Springsteen in Ryan’s working class/dead-end life setting but a little of the Irish poet (maybe it was the Irish bar that got me thinking that way) in him too. Ryan’s stripped-down set-up at this show also fit with his emotionally stripped down lyrics.
I felt too a certain punk rock influence - both in the physicality of his songs and structurally in the way he repeats phrases to add emphasis. It’s not surprising then that one of few covers songs that he has recorded is the Clash’s “Somebody Got Murdered.” He didn’t perform that one, but he did do another favorite cover, the Go-Betweens’ “Providence,” which does fit wonderfully in with his own tunes. It was also one of the several tunes that he closed the set with playing in the audience – a shadowy area that was an appropriate area for Ryan’s neither black nor white musical world.
In the small club’s crowd was Lucinda Williams, a big-time admirer. She expressed her admiration for him during this set and he dedicated his slowed down version of Burt Bacharach’s “I Will Never Fall In Love Again” to her and her husband Tom, and Williams sang along. While his songs were darkly intense, Ryan was far from the brooding musician on stage. He humorously announced that he made it through “Chrome” successfully for the first time in three shows and later stopped a song to help an older woman look for her purse.
Opening the show was the country rocker Gina Villalobos who turned out a lively set to her hometown crowd. Her feisty, rootsy tunes and crackly, gritty vocals brought Lucinda Williams to mind, and not just because she was in the audience. Songs like “Somebody Save Me” “Pictures of Pictures” and “Sun In My Eyes;” however, stood out on their own. I was aware of Villalobos but hadn’t kept up with her music; however, this show reminded me of her talent.