Saturday, January 14, 2012

Ryan Schmidt - White Horse EP

Album: White Horse EP
Artist: Ryan Schmidt
Release: January 10, 2012

I have been listening to Ryan Schmidt's Black Sheep, Run incessantly ever since I bought it so I was super excited to find out that his next offering, White Horse EP would be coming out January 10th (the day before my birthday - what a lovely coincidence!!).  I intended to buy it at midnight when it became available but, alas, I was asleep.  So I snagged it first thing the next morning and listened to it on my way to work.  I already knew that Paula Kelley (who first recommended Ryan to me) and Aaron Tap had worked on the title track which predisposed me to love it, but I was determined not to be biased.

Happily, I was not disappointed - not at all.  "White Horse" opens with a warm layer of strings under a finger picked guitar, providing a luxurious cushion for Ryan's vocals to rest on.  I have yet to hear anything that Paula Kelley has arranged that I haven't loved and the strings on this song are no exception.  Honestly, I'd be hard pressed to name another song on which the vocals and the music blend and work together as well as "White Horse".  And of course, there are his lyrics, "my North has been shifting, continents drifted to sea, an archaic transcription with bearings far beyond reach" - who else do you know of who writes like that and then sings it just as naturally as if saying his own name?  Lucky for us, this song is revisited at the end of the record with a completely wonderful instrumental continuation of the string arrangement.

I haven't decided yet if the next song, "You Answered Me", is the most romantic take on a booty call I've ever heard or a heartfelt tale of a supportive, nurturing friendship blossoming into something more.  Maybe neither. Maybe both.  Either way, the song is delivered with a smooth, sincere vocal performance. Also, the piano on it totally kills me.  Not overdone at all, this song is subtle and poignant just as it is, anything else would have felt like too much. 

My current favorite on this record is "Go Where You Belong" - an absolute delight of finger picked guitar that feels like it's being picked on your heart strings.  The first time I listened to it I heard the guitar at the beginning, then I ignored it and focused on the singing which is particularly exceptional on this song - reminds me of Matt Nathanson in places. I actually thought there was no instrumental accompaniment.  Then I stepped inside the song, past the vocal and listened to the guitar the next time.  It's a great song to hang out in.  Now I can hear both, beautifully blended and complimentary of one another.  You can hear him breathing on this song too, and by now you must know how much I love that. "Go Where You Belong" also has my favorite line on the record: "but growing up's about, what you're willing to forget, and I am only human, and I am only human, and we are only human, don't forget."  

Finally, "November 15" explores the fear and comfort of finding "The One".  Honestly, I don't need the harmony on this song, I find it rather distracting.  However, the strummy guitar and perfectly descriptive lyrics combine to make such a great song that I can overlook that.  I mean, you have to agree that, "it scares me to say, I need you with me, and since you've been here, I'm finally free" is pretty much exactly how it feels to fall in love.  But once again, he takes a topic that is certainly not new to music and comes at it from an angle that makes it all his own.

I'm not sure how I would classify the music on White Horse EP - it is different from Black Sheep, Run, more stripped down and pure, but somehow still sounds like Ryan Schmidt.  Luckily, I don't think things need a label to be wonderful and this little collection of songs is certainly that.  Overall, they are slow and gentle, there aren't any real rockers on here, but there are flashes of genius and moments of real beauty so you need only an appreciation of artistically created and performed music to love this record.  For me, it's the kind of music I would really love to hear on vinyl. 

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