It may be a good marketing move for an artist to invite comparisons to Van Morrison, Nick Drake and Richard Thompson. The only problem is that people will then, go figure, compare you to Van Morrison, Nick Drake and Richard Thompson. So before you take that leap, be sure you can measure up. Fortunately for Chicago singer-songwriter Ryley Walker, the title track of his new album, “Primrose Green,” is one of those shimmeringly perfect folk-rock tunes that only comes along every dozen years or so. (It easily stands next to Morrison’s “Moondance,” despite being nothing like it.) “Primrose Green” earns your good will and carries it through the rest of the album, which, while less blindingly beautiful, is still mighty fine. Walker’s guitar playing is the chief hero here; he’s pretty much a wizard, with the kind of confident adroitness and facility for improvisation you’d expect in a player twice his age (he’s twenty-five). His melodies and chord changes are equally topflight. His lyrics, however… let’s just say Morrison and Thompson don’t need to worry about the young turk snapping at their heels just yet. His imagery and turns of phrase tend to the prosaic; time and experience may improve him, but in the meantime he’s largely rescued by his style of singing—similar to Morrison’s, and perhaps deliberately borrowed from him—which relies on grunts, growls, and guttural trills. It’s actually kind of entrancing to listen to—in the tune “Sweet Satisfaction,” he almost approaches a kind of jazz scatting—but I’ll be damned if I can understand more than a few words of what he’s singing. (A clearly affected British accent doesn’t help.) But I shouldn’t kvetch; Walker’s clearly one of the city’s most promising up-and-comers. We should give him all the support we’ve got, so that he never leaves us. And you have two chances to do so in the coming week: he plays the Pitchfork Festival’s Blue Stage on Friday afternoon, but I’m guessing more people will be able to catch his Official Pitchfork Afterparty gig late Saturday night. Also on the bill: Viet Cong. (Robert Rodi)
July 18 at Subterranean, 2011 West North, (773)278-6600, $14. 17+.
Robert Rodi is an author, spoken-word performer and musician who has served as Newcity’s Music Editor since 2014. He’s written more than a dozen books, including the travel memoir “Seven Seasons In Siena,” and his literary and music criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, The Huffington Post and many other national and regional publications.