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FOLK | Plustapes introduces fingerstyle prodigy Ryley Walker
Dustin Drase of Plustapes first heard guitarist Ryley Walker a couple of years ago: Drase was selling stuff at the record fair at the Pitchfork Music Festival, and Walker came up to him and gave him a cassette. "We listened to it in the car on the way home, and at first I thought the kid was possibly fucking with me and he just straight-up dubbed a Fahey record," says Drase. "Listening to it again later, I was able to pick up some of the subtle flubs that made me realize this was actually just him doing a home recording."
On Tuesday Plustapes released Walker's The Evidence of Things Unseen, an impressive album of solo acoustic fingerstyle guitar that owes a clear debt to pioneers like John Fahey, Robbie Basho, and Leo Kottke (at least his early work). Largely improvised around small kernels of melody, the performances are mostly first takes recorded in a friend's kitchen. Each evolves with a graceful flow, moving from thickets of arpeggiated notes to spacious, circular shimmers to visceral bottleneck slides. Even more impressive than Walker's skill is the fact that he's only 21.
Fingerstyle isn't his only talent, either. Earlier this year Plustapes released Tiny Cancer, a double cassette of raw, abstract free improvisation by Wyoming, a duo of Walker and Andrew Scott Young (on upright bass and acoustic guitar). In June the label plans to release another of Walker's duo projects: in Princess Anne he plays with Daniel Bachman, a guitarist from Fredericksburg, Virginia, who performs under the name Sacred Harp. The smartly interactive music they make together incorporates some fingerstyle work, but there are also atmospheric electric-guitar textures and spaced-out drones.
Walker moved to Chicago from Rockford about three years ago, and since then his interests and influences have multiplied exponentially. For the past year, he says, he's been focusing on writing folk songs in the sprit of "big-voiced" greats like Tim Hardin, Fred Neil, and Tim Buckley. He gigs frequently, mostly at underground DIY venues that take some Google skills to find, and this June he leaves on a three-month U.S. tour with Princess Anne.—Peter Margasak