When times are tough, Ryan Walker is up and looking outward. The Oklahoma City shoe boutiquer turned singer/songwriter again wandered into Dustin Ragland's Duplexio studio in Mesta Park, this time assembling a large cast of musicians and collaborators for "Looking on the Bright Side." Oklahoma Gazette was given an exclusive preview of the new album, available in stores on Oct. 6 and digitally on Oct. 13.
Walker and multi-instrumentalist Ragland were joined by guitarists David Dani and Bryce Biggs, drummers Jeff Hall and Jesse Owen, bassist Chris Jurrens, keyboard player Steve Goss and banjo/mandolin player Dylan Springer for the 12-song album, a group effort that plainly illustrates Emelo's evolution from lonely idea to collective experiment.
The year 2007's "Tranquilizers, Brain Screwdrivers and a Book Full of Cheery Poems" was beautiful in its emptiness, with delicate digital flutters that teemed with the crush of heartache and disappointment. "Looking on the Bright Side" does, although Walker's optimism is tempered. The self-titled album opener is steady and soft, with bowed strings and shimmering guitar strumming cushioning his gentle hope.
With its organ bedrock and snappy, understated drumming, "Rosie" feels the most live, a smooth groove that lays way for a double-time chorus where Walker confesses, "I'd give anything for just a chance at love." The charming "Starry Sky" sparkles with a steady beat driven by a pulsing bass line and steered by atmospheric synthesizer pads that he navigates, lyrically finding beauty in the dim and distant.
If "Tranquilizers" were a gray room, "Bright Side" is the first glimpse of light. Walker said the new album was intentionally upbeat and hopeful, and was penned as a testament to survival and a reminder that "better times are ahead." With Emelo, better has become a matter of beating its last and best' an easy bet."Joe Wertz