Ryan Lee doesn’t perform like most singer-songwriters since he marches to the beat of a different drum. His style of work reminds me of the anguished torment associated with much of the work of the late Vic Chesnutt, as he weaves images awash in intricate artful beauty. Honest and unbending the lyrics are given flight by his interesting vocals and varied arrangements. Supported by guitars, piano, drums, percussion and harmony vocals Lee, who performs all duties apart from percussion on four tracks is said to have seen his life take an exciting turn when an unexpected love showed up, one to propel him into an exciting world of adventure, creative rebirth and wide-eyed optimism to the degree he now has an urgency to share his work with the world. Lee has grabbed hold of the opportunity to capitalise on the energy gained from this experience with both hands. On the song Simple he speaks of how he (and his love) are in the need of nothing or desire of the finer things such the feeling of contentment gained from them meeting.
Lee does sometimes become predictable, and on occasions there’s the feeling one track runs into the next, but with such interludes as Wish, accompanied by a gentle percussion and sprinklings of piano as he speaks of how this bachelor has been taken by surprise. Immigrant has him return to the mellow slow paced style of delivery prior to the more urgent Sowing/ Weeping. Dear Libra is an angst littered ballad that digs deeper into his emotions than almost any other song on the album. By this point I had come to the conclusion Always A River is the kind of album the listener needs to be in the mood and time to give their total attention to, as opposed to playing it at random.
Sparks jolts the record into action as he speaks of how he is a new creation in this peaceful isolation, and of how he has found his spark in the darkest of the dark. Powerful to the end, he wraps up the album via the title-cut Always A River where he speaks of going from the cold north woods to the muddy Delta heat as he ferries the listener on a fascinating ever-changing melodic, harmony aided journey. File under eclectic and innovative.