Super ensemble work that taps into Chicago's improvisatory lineage...

Ryley Walker has always been a contradictory soul. With his nimble Jansch-esque finger-picking he slots neatly into that acid folk realm, while never adopting the elfen tropes of his pastoral peers.

A world away from the leafy psych-folk of ‘Primrose Green’, say, new album ‘Course In Fable’ digs into his Chicago roots. An ensemble piece constructed with old-time friends, it taps into the improvisatory zest that imbues those early Tortoise or Gastr del Sol recordings with such unexpected electronicity.

‘Striking Down Your Big Premiere’ opens with tightly-wound prog elements, a King Crimson discourse that veers out towards the horizon before settling into pastures beatific. ‘Rang Dizzy’ offers more straight-ahead songwriting fare, while ‘A Lenticular Slap’ opens with superb descending acoustic lines against a stubborn, droning bass, the two working expectly against one another.

‘Axis Bent’ nods towards those long weeks on the road, while ‘Clad With Bunk’ is all sharp angles and deft about-turns – hell, there’s even a nod to the UK snooker theme at one point, we’re sure of it. The work of musicians who know one another inside out, ‘Course In Fable’ exudes an easy-going non-pretension – sure, they’ve got mad chops, but this album never veers into muso territory, a song cycle that continually challenges itself. -

Ending with the gentle strut of ‘Shiva With Dustpan’, there’s must to love on this album – as ever, Ryley Walker’s approach strips back well-worn truths, to reveal something startling underneath.

8/10

Words: Robin Murray

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