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The wonderful thing about Live Music Week here at WERS is not only the multitude of in studio performances that we have in for listener enjoyment, but our ability to secure local Boston acts that showcase what our city has to offer. One of these acts is Jimmy Ryan, a star on the Boston bluegrass and Americana scene. Ryan has lived in Boston for around 30 years now, and has used it as an inspiration for histravel across a wide range of genres. Ryan grew up with a group of friends who jammed together during their hangouts during the early days of glam rock. Amidst the guitars and keyboards, Ryan spotted a mandolin in the corner of the room. A self-proclaimed contrarian, Ryan picked up the misfit instrument and has been playing ever since.
In the studio, he gave a taste of his broad spectrum of solo work, one of which included a quick little tune called “Rocket 2 the Soul” from his latest album, Readville. This 8 track record has not been released on iTunes yet, but available on cdbaby.com. “Rocket 2 the Soul” really hones in on the bluegrass feel that Ryan has mastered. Though on the album Ryan is always accompanied with a myriad of other instruments like violin, percussion, and guitar, in addition to backup vocals, the session for WERS was just Ryan and his mandolin.
Though Ryan excels at capturing that bluegrass sound through just his voice and his instrument, this is not the only genre he has found success in. He kicked off his professional music career with a punk band called Decentz, but really gained notoriety in the late 80s with The Blood Oranges, an alt-country band that betrayed some of Ryan’s bluegrass leanings as a lead singer and songwriter, performing a lot of what Ryan described as “bluegrass-punk mashups”. Following the band’s break up in 1994, Ryan plunged into his next project, the Beacon Hillbillies. Following their 3 albums, Ryan worked on collaboration; this included reuniting with former Blood Oranges band mate Mark Spencer, and teaming up with the late Morphine lead singer, Mark Sandman.
But after years of working with people and on musical projects, Ryan has struck out on his own, releasing 4 solo albums in the past 10 years. Another selection he played in studio was “Gospel Shirt” from the album of the same name that Ryan released in 2005. This song best showcased some Ryan’s ability on the mandolin, with extended instrumental solos that reached into high octaves and quick speeds.
Ryan also enjoys doing sideman work, which he describes as “great – you get paid to travel which is nice. I’m lucky in that regard, that people will hire me to do that.” But he also enjoys the Boston music scene thoroughly – he has been here for 30 years after all. “There’s so many little bars that have such good music and musicians,” Ryan explained, “Many of them are graduates of music schools in the area that have hg around that just go out and play. There’s so many great players to play with! It’s an inspiration.”
What made Ryan’s performance in the studio even more unique was that he’s left handed, which at first may seem like not such a big deal. However, this is a little trademark of Ryan’s in his corner of the Boston music scene, and he has loved working with custom mandolin makers for his perfect fit. On his website he has chosen his favorite ones and posted links to encourage others to take their business there as well. In fact, Ryan is big on encouraging people’s involvement with music in general. He stressed during his interview that he wants people – from Boston, but really anywhere – that above all, they need to see live music and get to know that scene.