Under The Influence - The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers
Anyone that’s ever heard The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers knows what to expect. This is an indie artist that has a long history of laying down thick, mystical, monstrous layers of music, highlighted by the dual guitar fervor of siblings Jimmy and Johnny Ryan. This release, on the Grooveyard Records label (the finest label in the world for heavy guitar music), is typical FRB genius.
This record is intended to tip a proverbial cap to the band’s many influences. In the liner notes of the CD, they site names like The Allman Brothers, Cactus, Plankton, Joe Satriani, Bela Fleck, and Wishbone Ash (and many more), and say, “They set the high standards to which we humbly aspire.” But anyone who knows this band even slightly knows that this is not anything new. They have been honoring the musical giants that came before them for years now, and this set of songs is just another large step toward the Flyin’ Ryan Brothers name being added to that list of musical elite.
The disc jump starts with a Satrlani-type burner (“Full Throttle”) that has a deep, galloping bass and drum groove underneath the signature licks of Jimmy and Johnny’s guitars. The sure sign of talent and professionalism comes when the guitars start screaming. The simple fact that they start slaying giants with their axes but never jump out of the groove and lose the song is the key element to the success of this disc. These guys love to show off, but never at the expense of the song.
As usual, the Ryan brothers employed their favorite rhythm section of world class bassist William Kopecky and drummer Johnny Mrozek. Sadly, this will be the last recording of those two creating their magic due to the untimely death of Mrozek shortly before the release of the CD. The disc is reverently dedicated to his memory. Listening to Kopecky and Mrozec work and jive together is always a treat. With Kopecky sliding up and down the neck of his fretless bass, and Mrozec slapping out drum patterns to compliment him perfectly, this just might be the best rhythm section of its kind.
Some of my favorite tracks on this record are “Grooveyard Dawg” because of its menacing stomp, “Miranda” for its melodies and bass solos, “Rubik’s Groove” for its Jeff Beck-like tone and playfulness and its impressive effects, and “When We Left Earth” for its gripping emotional melody. But, there are a few tracks in addition to the ones I just mentioned that tower above almost every other piece of music available today. “After Hours” just might be the summit of the FRB mountain. The yearning guitar melody forces you to close your eyes and feel every note. When I opened my eyes after listening to this one, I fully expected to see myself covered in blood. This one squeezes your heart in a slow blues kind of way, similar to that of Gary Moore, while it lays down solos that simply scream out in pain. Couple this with the fact that Kopecky and Mrozek are completely dialed in to the feel of the tune and you have, quite possibly, the best track in the FRB catalog.
“El Morado” is another track that reaches new heights for the band. It’s another great melody, yes, but it, arguably, finds the rhythm section hotter than it’s ever been. With the guitars playing a Latin-influenced Santana-like melody, Kopecky is playing a song within a song on bass. His use of tone and his ear for the interior of a scale is amazing. Mrozek tops all of this off with a perfectly played drum part that finds him going from soft pop to rolling conga-like rhythms. And then there’s “Henhouse Shuffle”…….. This is the most fun you’ll ever have with an instrumental song. Again, Kopecky is impeccable on bass. Doing all kinds of sliding and cute fills on top of the basic rhythm of the song, his bass line adds a totally new dimension to an already great track. And, once the track reaches a break at the four minute mark, Mrozek is highlighted when he starts laying down a hoedown-type rhythm. This is all joined together by the crowing of a rooster, and some comedic fills by Jimmy and Johnny on guitars.
I keep thinking that this band has reached its maximum potential, but they always seem to prove me wrong. I thought their last effort, Totality, was definitely their best work, but now I’m not so sure. I find that instrumental music can sometimes lack depth for a number of reasons. Without a vocal track, the music must be strong enough to work on its own, or there must be a larger number of instruments to add new dimensions. The Flyin’ Ryans always seem to bypass this theory. They keep instrumentation limited to the basic guitar, bass, drum lineup (for the most part), and they don’t have a vocalist, but their music remains captivating and adventurous every time out. It’s really pretty impressive. I guess if I had one wish for the next FRB release it would be to have Jimmy and Johnny pairing their signature dual harmony guitar attack with a strong voice or some brass, a la Tower Of Power. But then again, more of the very same would suit me well, too.