A gentle take on some big themes that’s pleasant to the ear if a little patchy thematically.
While ‘A Tiny Death’ may sound like a slightly morbid title, for Missourian musician Andrew Ryan the word death means more than just the end: it signals a transformation. “I came across the French phrase ‘La petite mort’ which means a little death,” Ryan has said. “It translates to ‘the brief loss or weakening of consciousness. It also refers to ‘a short period of melancholy’ which is something I can relate to – death and transformation isn’t necessarily a bad thing or something to fear. For me growing is also allowing some death to occur in your life.”
Indeed, touring and the new experiences and people life on the road provides on a daily basis and the way those things go on to alter you was a great source of inspiration. ‘Heat Moon (For Madison Wheeler)’ was written about William Least Heat-Moon – whom Ryan came to see as a kindred spirit – and the journey he takes in his book ‘Blue Highways’: “When the sun goes down / And the stars come out / And the mystics howl / As the moonlight hits the ground,” speaks Ryan of the trip Heat-Moon took, his vocals gravely and warm against the gentle hum of acoustic guitar. ‘Jean, NV’ is also built around the theme of travel, but this time we’re looking at a place Ryan has an unquantifiable love for: “Sometimes I just try so hard / But no one moves me / Like the way you move me / And the girls like to talk to me for reasons I don’t know / I’m just a tourist out of season,” he laments sadly.
‘Empty House’ mulls over the idea that you can’t go home again and decides it’s probably true (“This is where I grew up / At the edge of town / This is where my heart was / Does anything really last”), while ‘Star Sign’ is the tale of a touring musician who misses home and fears they are holding their loved one back having to wait for them to return (“I miss my home / But not who I was / Remember the songs / Forget all the words / Cause I don’t wanna hold ya down again / And I don’t wanna hear it from your friends / And I don’t wanna make it up to you”).
‘All My Life’ hits an upbeat tone musically, even as the lyrics are a little more on the pessimistic side of the coin as Ryan struggles to do the right thing (“Hard to explain the way I’m feeling / Hard to explain this pain I’m concealing / Cause all my life I’ve tried to get it right”). True to the overarching theme of life, ‘Midwest Kids’ is inspired by what Ryan sees his daughter going through and is all about that time when we as humans are trying to figure out who we are. “So darling daughter remember your name / Keep your head up and don’t feel ashamed,” he tells her with the reassuring certainty only a parent can provide, against a background of angelic harmonies. “Life will not always be like this”.
“I’ll never be the one you adore / I’ll never be the one you adore / Though I tried for several years / As you gathered up the tears / I’ll never be the one that you adore,” Ryan tells us in muted tones on the opening lines of ‘Stunt Double’, a song that touches on feelings of imposter syndrome crowding the mind, as some gentle harmonies add some welcome texture to the song. ‘Fighting Loneliness’, with its harmonica laden introduction, sees Ryan unable to turn his back on a relationship, even when he knows it’s bad for him: “Every now and then / You still get in my head / Cause I don’t know how to let go.”
The songs here are short and to the point, and while the message has a tendency to get a bit muddled at times, this album still doesn’t sound like any sort of end for Ryan, but the birth of something that’s new and maturing – growing pains included.