More recent albums (2016's Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, 2018's Deafman Glance) hinted at an equally adventurous songwriting style without ever quite arriving at a totally comfortable position. Course In Fable makes those records sound like rehearsals for the real thing. Recorded in Walker's old hometown Chicago with John McEntire of Tortoise and The Sea and Cake producing, Course In Fable captures Walker locating his own unique voice, with eclectic influences - folk-rock avatars ala Nick Drake , Bert Jansch and John Martyn , time signature-shifting prog rockers (Walker's a keen Genesis fan), skronk a-go-go improv merchants, the jazz-hued abstractions of post-rock - rolled into one gloriously messy ball of musical play-do.
Ryley Walker has always been a contradictory soul. With his nimble Jansch-esque finger-picking he slots neatly into that acid folk realm, while never adopting the elfen tropes of his pastoral peers. A world away from the leafy psych-folk of 'Primrose Green', say, new album 'Course In Fable' digs into his Chicago roots. An ensemble piece constructed with old-time friends, it taps into the improvisatory zest that imbues those early Tortoise or Gastr del Sol recordings with such unexpected electronicity.
There is always some undiscovered land in Ryley Walker's vast world. In one hemisphere resides a full-album reinterpretation of Dave Matthews Band's The Lillywhite Sessions that the New York-based guitarist covered with unerring reverence and sincerity; in another, he is a living historian cum poet of bathrooms. Just this February, he released Deep Fried Grandeur*--*an improvised live set that's like a kosmische ramble cut with Japanese psychedelic explorers Kikagaku Moyo.
The pitch for Ryley Walker's Course in Fable is unusual and slightly befuddling: A Chicago-bred, New York-based troubadour channels his ambitious heroes and shoots to craft swirling progressive arrangements that go beyond the obvious. Though it occasionally misses this lofty mark, it works well enough. From the moment it begins, Course in Fable is jazzily complex and becomes increasingly more progressive with every song.
Course In Fable by Ryley Walker Capturing an addict's rock bottom moment is the stuff of long chapters in books and extended sequences in films and TV series. Ryley Walker sums it up in one simple line: "Fuck me, I'm alive." The Illinois-born musician found his dope sick nadir in 2019, during a lonely tour opening for Richard Thompson. One desperate night, he loaded himself up on a combo of drugs that he hoped would, as he told the Guardian, "put me on my ass and kill me but I woke up.