Wednesday, December 1, 2010


Ryan Cook has a singular and polished sound that crosses genres, and makes him one of the more interesting singer songwriters in the East Coast community.  He comes from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and was raised on a large dairy farm, which certainly gives him some actual country roots, something most people who work in the current country climate don't actually have. But he really didn't want to be, or start out to be a country performer. He actually started out doing punk rock and heavy metal. Like many musicians who progress though, he soon discovered songwriting, and with it an appreciation for all sorts of sounds.

The current Ryan Cook does get put into the country side of things, although he has lots of influences going on. You can hear plenty of roots music in there, with banjo and accordian and mandolin, bluegrass sounds when the fiddle and fast picking is added in. His writing includes the classic Canadian folk tradition, the cool places and people you'll meet and see around these parts. He also can fit in a little acoustic jazz to the sound. 

Now, this is quite the flip-flop from punk and metal, and Cook says it happened when he worked in a nursing home. He used to perform for the residents, and they would ask him to play songs by artists such as Hank Williams and Tom T. Hall. He started paying attention, and found his own voice in this older-styled country. That led him to start an acoustic-based group, and put out his first album Hot Times in 2008. He got attention as a country act, and even won a Music Nova Scotia award for Bluegrass recording of the year.

Country did indeed pick him up, and he got radio play and touring dates. Arriving in Nashville in 2009, he made some strong local connections and ended up recording his new album there. It's called Peaks And Valleys, and has just been released. This isn't one of those take-the-money-and-run Nashville studio productions. Often secondary studios and over-seasoned session men make quick bucks by allowing just about anybody to book time and do quick and easy productions just to have the words Recorded In Nashville on their disc, like it somehow makes it better. In fact, most of those released are hack work. Here Ryan Cook really is surrounded by some of the best the city has to offer, including the fabulous banjo player Alison Brown, whose forays into jazz and world music have revolutionized the instrument. But the real important thing here is Cook's songs. He's a strong lyricist, and he combines that with lots of interesting music ideas, not least of which is that touch of happy jazz licks, even an old-fashioned clarinet in there. Word-wise, Cook avoids the usual cliches and writes about places and people you'll feel a connection to. There's a good one that name-checks the Gaspereau Valley region of Nova Scotia, for instance. Just another of the peaks and valleys of the area, and life, that Cook puts in his material.

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