Ryan Shaw is a man with a mission. This 26-year-old singer/songwriter from Decatur, Georgia is out to revive the passion and soul of the Golden Age of Rhythm & Blues (1960-1972) for a new generation. His One Haven/Columbia debut album, This Is Ryan Shaw, combines a powerfully expressive voice with a clutch of great songs both classic and new-and a state-of-the-art, in-your-face sound that makes it impossible to sit still.
Working with player/producers Jimmy Bralower and Johnny Gale, Ryan dug deep into the "soul mine" for overlooked gems by obscure artists like the Combo Kings and the Sharpees along with more familiar songs made famous by Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson, and Bobby Womack. Ryan's original tunes-"Nobody" (the first single), "We Got Love," and "Over and Done" -are most definitely of the moment but built on the old-school values of strong melodies and meaningful lyrics.
Ryan Shaw was born December 26, 1980 in Decatur, Georgia and grew up in a deeply religious Pentecostal family. He began singing in church at the age of five and later formed a family group with his four brothers called the Shaw Boys. "We didn't listen to secular or pop music either in or out of our house," he explains. "So my early musical influences are all from the gospel world-singers like Darryl Coley, Keith Brooks, James Moore, and the Pace Sisters."
After briefly attending Georgia State University, Ryan successfully auditioned for the gospel musical A Good Man Is Hard to Find (Part II). In 1998, he joined the cast of I Know I've Been Changed, written and directed by Tyler Perry (Diary of a Mad Black Woman). Ryan came to New York with this production and performed to sold-out crowds at the Beacon Theater.
After the closing of I Know I've Been Changed, Ryan joined the resident cast of the Motown CafÃ© on West 57thStreet where he performed Detroit soul favorites by the Four Tops and Marvin Gaye. Later he found another steady gig with a group that he says played "just about anything from the Fifties and Sixties that you could dance to-Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, Stax and Motown, Dion & the Belmonts, you name it."
"With my church background, a lot of this material was new to me. But when I saw how those songs affected people, I began to understand how their own memories and emotions were invested in the music. Now that was pretty cool."
The more Ryan heard of the sounds of the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, the more aware he became of the missing ingredients in contemporary music. "I'm into chords, melodies, lyrics, arrangements-I'm into music in all its aspects. It seems like the late Eighties were the last time we really had all these elements in Black music, with artists like Anita Baker and Luther Vandross. By the mid-Nineties, we were down to two chords and a drum loop."
In 2004 Ryan was recruited into the Fabulous Soul Shakers, a vocal group specializing in classic soul and doo-wop. Johnny Gale, the group's guitarist, is a New York music veteran who's worked with everyone from Hank Ballard to the Ramones. Deeply impressed by Ryan's talent, Johnny urged his old friend Jimmy Bralower to check him out. As a percussionist and drum programmer, Jimmy was among the city's most in-demand session players, having worked with superstars like Madonna, Peter Gabriel, and Steve Winwood.
One night in 2006, Bralower came down to hear Ryan sing at a small Lower East Side club...and was blown away by what he heard. He and Johnny Gale invited Ryan back to Jimmy's basement studio on Long Island where they quickly cut four of Ryan's featured numbers with the Soul Shakers including "Do the 45" and "I Found a Love."
The collaboration proved to be heaven-sent. Ryan carefully chose from dozens of suggested songs and shaped his own interpretations as Jimmy and Johnny "powered up" the original arrangements with muscular bass and drums while adding a guitar riff here or some handclaps there.
Even as they reinvented such nuggets as Jackie Wilson's "I'll Be Satisfied" and Bobby Womack's "Lookin' For A Love," the team created new original songs that meshed seamlessly with the old ones. "The core songwriting values of that period are so strong and so timeless that even many of the non-hit soul records of the Sixties sound like â€˜hits' today," says Jimmy. "Those are the values we adhered to in writing and recording songs like â€˜Nobody' and â€˜We Got Love.'"
Their efforts did not go unrewarded. "Nobody" is now the first single from This Is Ryan Shaw while "We Got Love" was prominently featured in January 2007 promos for the ABC network television series "Brothers and Sisters."
"The strength of his own writing shows that Ryan Shaw isn't just a great singer" Jimmy Bralower declares. "He's a real artist, he's got something to say, and he's going to be around for a long, long time."
By Andy Schwartz