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Bill Ryder Jones - If…

A stunningly good debut album that confounds all expectations.

During his time with The Coral, guitar virtuoso Bill Ryder-Jones gained a reputation as something of a maverick. Now, three years after leaving the Liverpudlian band, Ryder-Jones has again proved his maverick status with a stunningly good debut album that confounds all expectations.

It is important to state that ‘If…’ sounds unlike anything The Coral ever recorded. The album is almost completely instrumental and is an orchestral concept record based on, and intended to soundtrack, Italo Calvino’s novel ‘If On A Winters Night A Traveller’. The album sees Ryder-Jones firmly leave behind his reputation as a very good indie guitarist and establish himself as a wonderfully gifted composer.

‘If…’ was recorded with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and it is the orchestra’s contributions that really give the album its special quality. Opening with an orchestral suite of three songs, twinkling piano is the main instrument used, but tellingly, there is a complete absence of guitar. The music is grand and ornate but the orchestral flourishes never feel overblown or overbearing and sound incredibly natural and graceful.

The soft and lilting ’Leaving (Star Of Sweden)’ is the first song and one of only three to feature vocals, and Ryder-Jones’ soothing voice is a perfect accompaniment to the delicate piano sounds. The album’s theme of a soundtrack to a novel allows the tone and sound to gradually change, mirroring the twists and turns of the novel; ‘By The Church Of Appolonia’s’ funereal, sombre death march is in marked contrast to the elegant strings of the first three songs, and it really does have a haunting, aching sadness to it. In fact, a distinct feeling of melancholy is present throughout the album, a feeling exacerbated by the atmospheric, filmic and frequently beautiful music created.

‘Le Grand Desordre’ is the sparsest song on the album and it is a lovely little folksy lament featuring nothing but Ryder-Jones and his guitar. It is a really clever touch to include a basic acoustic guitar song right in the middle of a largely instrumental orchestral record, and works very well as a charming diversion.

Sometimes instrumental albums can be difficult to listen to, but ‘If…’ manages to retain your attention throughout. ‘Enlace’ really is a stunning piece of music. Gradually building with some rumbling drums, finger picked guitar and soaring strings it really does sound spine-tingly good. That is until the effect is rather sullied by a minute and a half of incongruous guitar soloing that sounds entirely out of place like it has came from a completely different record. Fortunately, this is the album’s only misstep.

The final song is, appropriately titled, ‘Some Absolute End (The End)’ and its six minutes of beautifully crafted and balletic piano provide a fitting full stop on a supremely evocative album.

Instrumental soundtracks to novels are not the most commercial of propositions, but you get the feeling Bill Ryder-Jones is not interested in commercial success and his ambitions are much loftier. Judging from his ambitious and staggeringly accomplished debut album the sky is the limit for his creative ambitions and he should be applauded for making a genuinely unique debut album.

Tags: Bill Ryder-Jones, Reviews, Album Reviews

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