Hugely powerful voice against a lively blue-infused country makes for an instant sit-up-and-listen second album.
From the opening track on Ryan Curtis’ sophomore album ‘Ain’t Ever Easy’, his deep, gravelly baritone and the accompanying music that shows he has one foot in the world of country and the other in funk, while both his toes dip over the line into soul, it is immediately clear that he is not afraid to try out the different country subgenres that fall under the banner of Americana. Rock? Check. Western? Check. Outlaw? Check. Blues? Check, double check and then some more checks.
“I wake everyday thinkin’ today’s gonna be my day / Then I lie down at night and nothin’ has changed,” Curtis sings over a countrified 70s soft rock twang on the standout track ‘Codependent Heart’. “I know it ain’t right / But I come back every night / This codependent heart of mine,” he confesses on the chorus. On ‘Wasted Energy’, Curtis has no issue self-policing himself to solve his problems: “If I begin to waver / And I start to give in / I’ll remember to lighten my load and not to dwell on it / ‘Cause all them troubles / That I used to carry / Well I don’t miss them / Don’t miss them a bit.”
With it’s heavy presence of cowbell, ‘Drunk Tank’ brings Blue Oyster Cult’s ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ and a very specific ‘Saturday Night Live’ sketch unsurprisingly to mind (if you know, you know), but regardless, it’s a fun three minutes and 40 seconds of semi-nutritious retro pulp. “Sure love this city / But there ain’t any love left in it for me,” Curtis complains of the one-sided relationship he has somehow acquired with a place he loves that doesn’t seem to reciprocate.
“Lord knows I left a trail of death and damage / That I lived beyond my years / Lord knows I let a lot people down / And they didn’t follow me / To this town,” Curtis growls regretfully against an easy beat on ‘This Town’, more than just a hint of bitterness in his voice. He makes his cover of The Steel Driver’s ‘Good Corn Liquor’ his own, swapping the bluegrass for hints of Nick Cave coupled with a Latin flavour and an epic guitar solo. ‘Cactus and Cocaine’ is a rocker about over indulging on a Saturday night (“You won’t catch me on Sunday / Unless you’re up all night”), and while ‘Through the Trees’ drops the tempo down, Curtis remains prickly: “It’s been a hot, hot summer,” he says more than sings with a Leonard Cohen-esque snarl. “Cold inside my heart / Somewhere in the middle / All the world’s falling apart.”
There is a kind of gritty, effortless cool to Curtis’ music, but more so his voice, that could never be bottled or manufactured, something one has to simply be lucky enough to be born with; so while Curtis may think that it ‘Ain’t Ever Easy’, it continues to sound completely effortless in the most enviable of ways.