Grainne Ryan – Looking for Sunshine
Listening to Grainne (pronounced Grawn-ya) Ryan’s first full-length CD further reinforces the notion that spring is nigh. The opening song “Not Enough Love” with its upbeat pace, strong acoustic guitar and hint of pedal steel provides her with the perfect vehicle. Her fresh, clean voice and sunny outlook is nothing derived from a Katrina & The Waves music video. Her outlook is reality-based but, like her music, her message is hopeful and positive. From her musical approach, one imagines Ryan to be sitting around in a rural retreat—feet up, sun on her face and her mind adrift in serious daydreams about what it might take to make the world a better place. She doesn’t pretend to have answers, but she’s happy to pitch pertinent questions.
More band-oriented and less folksy than All the Money, her previous EP release, Looking For Sunshine appears to sum up her raison d’être. Reminiscent of Lucinda Williams and a slightly rebellious Mary Chapin Carpenter, Ryan’s earthy perspective goes one big step further in that her original compositions are instantly familiar-sounding, hook-laden songs that encourage you to kick up your feet and, in some cases, sing along.
That Moe Berg has produced this release may account for some of this yet, without Moe’s influence, her previous effort has demonstrated her proficiency as a singer and a songwriter. If she seems difficult to entirely pigeonhole, that’s in her favour—she’s clearly grown up with Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil, Rosanne Cash, Nanci Griffith and, according to her website’s bio, AC/DC. Surrounding herself with great players – specifically “Texas Stew” Crookes (pedal steel), Ali Stead/Moe Berg/Adam Gontier (guitars) and power-hitter Neil Sanderson on drums, she’s confident in taking on the world.
In songs requiring added power, Ryan supplements her vocals with great backup support from (elder sister) Cora Westermann and Travis Berlenbach. Strong harmonies appear to be a secret weapon across these 10 original songs as Westermann provides the perfect accent to Ryan’s clear, fresh voice—a voice which incorporates a hint of country and, at other times, a strong Celtic flavour.
Consider one of the album’s strongest tracks, “Colours Of You”. It begins as a gentle, folksy piece that adds banjo and harmonies before kicking into a secondary section that strums its way into a distinctly Celtic-sounding, Sandy Denny-esque singalong—one that you can’t stop playing. This buoyant fare is all the more refreshing following the dark, rocking “Under the Blanket”—displaying a love of being a bit of a rocker, with its searing guitar leads and Sanderson’s pleasing John Bonham impersonation. The song runs a bit out of her range, yet it boasts strong party appeal.
“Big Yellow Machines” is another sturdy composition that carries her position against over-development, blending in a horn section for a twist. Some songs are less effective, less developed. “A Little Time” meanders while “Misunderstood” is guilty of losing itself, as pleasant as it is to listen to. Redemption is found in “In Between”—which sounds like a lost Jayhawks track, Crookes’ pedal steel providing a haunting effect behind Ryan’s soft, yet strong, vocal atop acoustic and electric guitars. “Breathe It In” brings the energy back, full tilt, while a mournful “The Rain” reveals added depth, while demonstrating a grasp of blending country to a more contemporary sound, taking a page out of Emmylou Harris’ book.
All in all, this is a surprisingly sophisticated and accomplished release from an artist who should be better known. There’s little doubt she has a vision for where she’s heading and, given support, she’ll get there. As Ryan reminds us in the closing song and title track, she’ll continue “looking for the sunshine” and the fact that spring is almost here may be the seasonal edge to continue this momentum.