Ryan Shaw - In Between (2009)

Ryan Shaw
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Ryan Shaw burst onto the scene in 2007, working with producers Jimmy Bralower and Johnny Gale to create one of the most unadulterated musical pleasures of that year with his debut album This Is Ryan Shaw.  It was a brilliant disc that recalled the vibe of early Motown, relying on well selected covers and surprisingly strong original tunes.  What wasn't a joy about This is Ryan Shaw was the treatment it received from Sony Records, getting the promotional rug pulled out from under it just as it should have been hitting its stride.  While Amy Winehouse and Duffy were being celebrated for their effective, retro sound, Ryan Shaw's equally notable album was left out to dry.

Ryan Shaw burst onto the scene in 2007, working with producers Jimmy Bralower and Johnny Gale to create one of the most unadulterated musical pleasures of that year with his debut album This Is Ryan Shaw.  It was a brilliant disc that recalled the vibe of early Motown, relying on well selected covers and surprisingly strong original tunes.  What wasn't a joy about This is Ryan Shaw was the treatment it received from Sony Records, getting the promotional rug pulled out from under it just as it should have been hitting its stride.  While Amy Winehouse and Duffy were being celebrated for their effective, retro sound, Ryan Shaw's equally notable album was left out to dry.

So Shaw is now an independent artist, working on his own FORM Records, in association with another label (45 Records) formed by Bralower and Gale to push their vision of music that brings forward some of the classic sounds of 60s soul. His entry into the land of indie is the fittingly titled EP, In Between, a disc that follows the overall style of his debut album, but with all new compositions by the trio.

In Between comes out smoking, both musically and lyrically, with "It Gets Better," on which Shaw, southern soul beat and organ blaring, addresses his critics (and the major record companies) head on: "They tried to tell me/I'm living in the past/They said 'Boy you'd better change it if you wanna last.' But I know it's worth the fight/to do what's in my heart/just give me the microphone and watch the fire start."  It's a great intro and the most natural follow-up to the work on his debut.  And over the six song EP, he continues his authentic homage to classic soul, covering everything from Sam Cooke-like ballads ("Morning Noon & Night") to a funky, classic Stax sound ("Get Previous").  He even includes a more modern track, "We Don't Give Up Now," that stands as an indictment of injustices in America while also celebrating the resilience of Americans.  Throughout it all, Shaw sounds great, nailing both the jumpy, upbeat numbers and the sweet ballads with aplomb, only faltering on the oversung cut, "The Sweetest Thing."

With In Between, Ryan Shaw makes a clear statement of the music that is in his heart and the direction in which he wants to take his career -- and where he thinks his fans will follow, regardless of what critics may think. Unlike Shaw's debut, which was a left field pleasure, In Between arrives with some expectations, and it generally meets them.  It is a solid, if brief, follow up that shows Shaw is the real deal and is hopefully the "in between" tasting that bridges Shaw's excellent debut and an equally memorable sophomore set.  Recommended.

By Chris Rizik

 

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