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August 29, 2013

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Ryan Oyer brings credibility back to the wordsmith/vocalist

Ryan Oyer is one of those names I’d heard a thousand times without ever having had the opportunity to hear him play. The best I could guess from the ubiquitous nature of his name was that he must be one of the hardest-working men in show business—in Chattanooga anyway. I spent a long road trip over the weekend listening to his discography, and two things immediately occurred to me: 1) What a pity to have missed all those performances, and 2) What a treat to discover that something so worthwhile was right here the whole time.

As a rule, I don’t like to write about individual singer/songwriters for the simple reason that I’ve known too many of them. In the last 25 years, I have met, listened to and performed with literally hundreds of would-be lyrical wordsmiths and of the lot of them, 10 might have been really memorable (Dave Brown and Vic Burgess are two good examples). There is nothing particularly difficult about writing a song or unique about being a songwriter. Writing a good song is an altogether different matter, and good songwriters are few and far between. It was a stroke of good fortune, then, to find that Oyer is one of the good ones, a singer and songwriter worthy of the titles. 

Much has been made of the influence of the Beatles on Oyer’s work, and there are undoubtedly hints of that to be found, but every artist is, to an extent, an amalgam of influences and experiences. It is the interpretation of that creative fodder that gives an artist his voice. Townes Van Zandt was influenced by Lefty Frizzell and Hank Williams by Roy Acuff, but whatever may have influenced them, their own contributions to music are iconic and unmistakable. This is just as true for Ryan Oyer, Beatles or not.  

Even during a first listen, it becomes clear that at least some of the tunes have an autobiographical origin. “Rabbit Hole” is a standout example, a reflection of Oyer’s angst during a painful divorce. The marvelous thing about the tune is that it completely fails to beat you over the head with the subject matter and THAT is what marks Oyer as a great songwriter.  

It takes more than minor chords and spooky fiddles to make a good tune. Subtlety and a light touch are far more valuable (and rare). Oyer’s command of nuance is proof positive that the man cares for his craft. To put it plainly, if I were in a crowded, noisy bar and heard this tune in the background, I’d drop whatever I was doing to listen until it was finished, and whether I knew what it was about or not, I’d buy the album on the spot. It’s pretty good.

“Beautiful Disaster” is another tune that smacks of having a real-life story behind it. I don’t know that for a fact, but being more than a little familiar with the subject matter, I feel qualified to say that if Oyer is faking it in this tune, he is doing a hell of a job. It may not be a universal experience, but I’d guess that a great many people have at one time or other found themselves in a relationship where the pretty book cover had little do with the beer-stained crayon scribbling inside. The lyrics ring true, and the music is a very nice homage to Chris Isaak.

Since the release of his most recent album,  Oyer has devoted a great deal of time to penning and perfecting a new album’s worth of tunes. With the contributing talents of such familiar faces as Brett Nolan and Butch Ross, as well as a number of guest appearances by other prominent local musicians, it’s a safe bet that Oyer will knock this one out of the park as well. You can generally catch Ryan Oyer at Tremont Tavern’s open mic night, hosted by the near-legendary, all-around-good-guy Mike McDade. The Ryan Oyer Band (a change in nomenclature reflecting the evolving nature of their live sound) has two gigs coming up soon, Sept. 19 at Rhythm & Brews, opening for American Aquarium, and Sept. 21 at The Camp House, where rumor has it they will be recording a live album. I recommend you see them now while you have the chance, because sooner or later, people are going to notice what Oyer is doing, and once that happens, ticket prices will go up, availability will go down, and it will be much too late to say, “I knew him before he was famous.”

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August 29, 2013

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