Sophomore Lounge

Ryan Davis & The Roadhouse Band – Dancing On The Edge 2xLP

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"At the frayed bottom-edge of Indiana – just a moderate bike ride north of LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY – multi-instrumentalist, artist and songwriter RYAN DAVIS’ Americana-noir soundwaves have been emanating for years in a myriad of forms. As driving force for the lauded STATE CHAMPION, long-running member of TROPICAL TRASH, administrator of the esoteric and excellent CROPPED OUT festival, and lone proprietor of the SOPHOMORE LOUNGE label, Davis lays down his first proper ‘solo’ release with ‘DANCING ON THE EDGE’ – a rich, 2-LP tapestry of tunes that absolutely glows over seven expansive cuts. It’s a pure collage of modernity and heritage.

After a period of introspection spent re-immersing himself in his drawing & painting practice, as well as his newfound delvings into instrumental music, Davis’ sea change was imminent. “I wasn't sure I would ever make another record of ‘song’ songs,” he says, “but last year I started writing again and it eventually took the shape of the record at hand. I worked painstakingly hard on the material. It felt virtually impossible to complete for a bulk of the time I spent trying to enter into it, but the process pulled me out of a strange place. I was eventually able to live inside of the songs enough to understand the world within them – to ultimately help shape them into what I understood them to be.” Indeed, there’s a load of inspiration captured in the grooves with Ryan’s unfiltered, folk-
traditioned approach to poetic twists-of-tongue meeting head on with sublime instrumentation.

Recorded in early 2023 with help both in-studio and remotely from peers like JOAN SHELLEY, CATHERINE IRWIN (Freakwater), WILL LAWRENCE (Felice Brothers, Gun Outfit, John Early), JENNY ROSE (Giving Up), CHRISTOPHER MAY (Mail the Horse), ELISABETH FUCHSIA (Footings, Bonnie "Prince" Billy), and AARON ROSENBLUM (Son of Earth, Sapat), 'Dancing on the Edge' draws backup perhaps primarily from Davis' tight-knit drinking buddies-cum-cast of collaborators in EQUIPMENT POINTED ANKH (records on Astral Editions, Bruit Direct Disques, Torn Light) – a five-headed hive-mind from which he drew impetus for his own foray into more abstract and improvisational terrain these past few years under the ROADHOUSE alias. The results herein are melancholic, gentle, minimal yet colorful in mood: a lilting highway accompaniment of crisp instrumentation and a relaxed, amiable approach to vocals with rhapsodic wordsmithery. Fans of the aforementioned artists as well as those of Souled American, David Berman, Kurt Vile and ‘Comes A Time’-era Neil should all easily find bounty.

While bare-boned and uncluttered in presentation, many of these pieces track over 6 minutes allowing a fair amount of expansiveness. “Flashes of Orange” percolates with synthetic and organic percussion while Davis ruminates on how “a steady drip falls from the ceiling to my forehead / a pitter-patter of my past mistakes” as a Cale-esque violin chatters through impressionistic fields of pedal steel. It’s got an absence of recurring verses, replaced by an ever-unfolding story, words spotlighted by tasteful flanging synths and lovely key shifts as finally the titular hook lifts its proceedings up into the clouds. Other times the humor shines: tales of a jukebox that “only plays ‘Sultans of Swing’” in “Junk Drawer Heart,” ruminations like “soon I’ll be seen as a problem for the neighbors / soon I’ll be seen as a trophy for the precinct” in “Free From the Guillotine,” and of course the simple proclamation of “A Suitable Exit” being “I never asked to be born / I was only wondering where the door went to.”

Tracked & mixed by SETH MANCHESTER at Machines With Magnets (Pawtucket, RI) and mastered for vinyl by TOHRU KOTETSU at Tokyo’s legendary JVC Mastering Center, ‘Dancing On the Edge’ stares down into the navel of the American Experience underbelly with a fair amount of outward reach. Besides the Kosmische-synth and violin stabs reaching into a European element, stately organ swells build a musical bridge between 1969 Southern California and Felt’s latter era smooth moves, with layers of intelligent gesture taking this well beyond the realm of its archetypal indie troubadour/acoustic songwriter tag. Music and mint juleps never went down so well together."

Brian Turner
 


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