Ryan Sambol ⫸ ⫸ ⫸ ⫸ ⫸ ⫸ ⫸
Ryan Sambol was the former frontman of the fantastic Austin band The Strange Boys who disbanded in 2012 after three albums. Sambol begat the The Strange Boys at a young age, and the group was praised for its prodigious ability to synthesize all forms of roots, rock, and R&B. So much so, talk about the band became a vortex of genre names and touchstones–garage rock, Dylan, country, Doug Sahm, Nuggets… Apt comparisons, but what made The Strange Boys a great band was their loose, masterful evocation of all those vibes at once–they were a fiery, earnest, feel-good live band. What made The Strange Boys’ music great was Sambol’s keen sense of melody paired with his charming, off-kilter delivery. Yet for all The Strange Boys’ young fun and bombast, there was a countering element of beauty and introspection. The songs contained a world-weary seriousness, and Sambol vacillated between sunny and nihilistic outlooks. It’s a conversation that develops in his solo work, and separated from the vehicle of his band, his songwriter’s persona seems more beguiled and tormented. With 'Rail Sing', Sambol delivers a stunning display of an artist very much in his prime, navigating seamlessly between baroque pop, jazz, and songbook.
Perpetual Doom presents Rail Sing, a retrospective collection from Ryan Sambol. Recorded in Nashville, Texas, Germany, and New York, between 2014 and 2018, these are songs published, lost, forgotten, and rediscovered—now available together on cassette for the first time. They follow Ryan’s work with The Strange Boys and Living Grateful, as well as his last solo record, Now Ritual, and look forward to his upcoming release: Gestalt.
Maybe it’s an accident, a trick of the light, but each tune on Rail Sing yields a singular laconic magic. If this is a statement, a comprehensive glimpse of a particular moment in an artist’s career, it’s also a worn-through record of art held together by surprise. Life furnishes its own forms, and here Ryan is in discovery mode. From the first full-band tracks, recorded with The Interstate Group, to the gentle instrumental closer, these are songs for the valleys and peaks, the poor and put upon, the strongest things that make you weak. They look at the ways that time takes its toll, stockpiling a few regrets and pointing some fingers. Opening track “However Called” faces down the big decisions and quiet moments in a life spent making music, every yes, every no, and every “so?” “Dearborn” wraps some contemplation of uncertain origins and ultimate end in a vision of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. But because time can also be gentle, they all return to a kind of indolent praise. “I owe money all over town,” Ryan sings on “Stronger Than,” “but only small amounts.” Backed by his pals in The Interstate Group, whose accompaniment emphasizes each turn of phrase, every disparate feeling, Ryan paints these tunes with a golden hue.
As much as Rail Sing documents a particular moment, the record's effect is to leave a hazy nostalgia. Is it those Texas evenings? The sound of that tape turning over? All those voices at the end of “Everything is Free”? The second half finds Ryan on his own but never alone, bringing warmth and atmosphere to tunes that express the determination to be independent, different, and singular. The same goes for the instrumentals “April March” and “A Nun,” which veer out of expected territory and into the open space Ryan explored in “After Lunch.” The final track, “Paean,” delivers all of this with a blessing. There is much to be grateful for already, but there is so much more to come. Rail Sing marks Ryan Sambol as a persistently unique and inventive artist. And if there’s still a bit of dust on these tunes, “Allways” puts it best: “He was going there always. He was going regardless of what you thought. Just let him do his thing.”
Release Date: August 21, 2020
Gestalt is the newest album from Texas-based musician and poet Ryan Sambol. Following his work with The Strange Boys, Living Grateful, and The Interstate Group, this record refines the country-folk sound of previous solo releases Now Ritual (2015) and Rail Sing (2020) in a stark work of personal and musical pruning. Although written for the road and full accompaniment, these nine tracks were recorded in relative isolation, often tracked live, and reflect the sometimes painful, often bemusing process of self-examination. The result is a singular document of a songwriter honing his craft—observing, thinking, and creating.
True to its name, Gestalt is a work of unified parts. Sketches of life in Texas, reflections on fame and fortune, notes to self and everyone else, the songs collected here range in mood from biting and bitter to decidedly hopeful. But each track finds a place in a grander scheme, joined by the record’s uncrowded instrumentation and lonesome origins. On opener “You’re Still Loveable to Someone,” Sambol finds a bit of unsettling perspective in contrasting his own art against the vastness of geological time: “I hope I have something special when I was handed a four-hundred-million-year-old stone.” The album is full of such wry reflections about the possibility of authentic expression, the Sisyphean task of living up to your calling, and the challenge of making music for a living, from the lovelorn recollections of the shimmering “Just Like Golden Hours” to the harried inquiries of spacious tracks like “There Are Things To Be Doing” and “Different Sky.” These tunes, like the others, work from a careful palette, placing distant keys against a quiet electric hum or centering the chime of a lone guitar. They are songs made of moments, calling attention to the odd detail, to the fret-scratches and pauses between words.
The sum of these songs is an image of an artist at work. Sambol captures the humdrum and boring moments of the poet’s life—the hours spent on the phone, days of staring at a wall—as thoroughly as he does the joy of performing and the pathos of self-expression. It is a complex, uncompromising view that seeks to temper blame with gratitude and regret with vision. Under a solitary arpeggio, he imprints closer “His Aim” with some wisdom of the wounded variety: “I’ve stopped guessing out loud.” That is good advice for these times, but a better comment on the paths of discovery taken on Gestalt.
Release Date: February 1, 2021