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ALBUM REVIEW: Does Matthew Ryan’s “Boxers” Pack A Sonic Punch?

Matthew Ryan has a deep catalog. If you are familiar with his music, you already know this, but he isn’t a household name (unless you live in my house or read our recent interview with him). His music runs the gamut from rootsy rock and roll, to singer/songwriter acoustica, to atmospheric “ambient folk”.

Today is the review of his most recent album, Boxers, released this last fall. Tomorrow, Newswhistle will feature my interview with Ryan.

“In Stereo – Play Loudly”

Those words are on the cover of Matthew Ryan’s latest album, Boxers, and the music inside fits the billing. This is a rock and roll record. The message, though, comes through at any volume.

This is an album full of drinkers, marginalized characters, and brawlers. It isn’t all loud. There are plenty of hushed moments, but it is heavy duty the whole way through.

Appropriately, after the shimmery feedback, the title track is marches out of the gate with purpose, with fight. Still, the opening lyrics, “all is well, all is well”, make the listener wonder.

“You’re a boxer against the ropes with blood running down your throat, but this is the fight you chose”. Boxers is a journey that you have to choose, intentionally so.

The album continues with a ringing acoustic song, “Suffer No More”. See tomorrow’s interview for more on this number, but I feel like Ryan has given me his guarded blessing to call the song “Westerbergian”. You’ll either get that or you won’t.

Boxers amps back up for “God’s Not Here Tonight”. It is pure disappointment set to the tune of massive heavyweight beat down.

“You’ve got some nerve to talk like this once you’ve turned to act like that. I lost some teeth defending you, and you folded like a rat”.

“First Heartbreak” sounds and feels triumphant while slogging through four minutes of universal truths; something that Ryan has done very, very well over the years (see also, “Come Home” off of Regret Over the Wires).

The haunting, spare “We Are Libertines” explores a relationship through the conflicted eyes, while “She Threw Me Like A Handgrenade” says it all right in the title.

“This One’s For You, Frankie” (above) comes back fighting. Tomorrow’s interview will shed some more light on who “Frankie” is, but you don’t need to live in Ryan’s brain to pick out the theme of brotherhood running through this song.

“An Anthem For The Broken” (above) is, by far, my favorite track. The text in the beginning of the above video is particularly difficult, as it was originally released to aid a friend named John Anderson who was suffering from ALS. More in tomorrow’s interview…

“An Anthem For The Broken” is heartbreaking, hopeful, and rumbles and shouts like it wants you to listen, really listen. You should, too. You should follow the lyrics. You should turn it up until your speakers crackle. Revel in it. Feel that lump in your throat? Shout “WE WON’T QUIT” along with the band. You’ll feel better, I promise.

Boxers ends with a promise laid bare in the spare, acoustic song “If You’re Not Happy”.

“Just hold tight, and make it through the night… You’ll be glad you stuck around”.

That is the reward of listening to an artist like Ryan. Your ears, brain, and heart are being assaulted all day long with songs, work, life, and commerce… It can be a bit much, but if you carve out just a tiny bit of space for works like Boxers, you’ll be glad you did and better for it.

Boxers is available digitally via Ryan’s own site, and iTunes. You can (and should) also get it on vinyl via the vinyl store on his site. Watch his tour page for information on upcoming dates.

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NewsWhistle music contributor Chad Werner is “ahead of the curve, behind the times.” You can contact this rock n’ roll sphinx at chad@newswhistle.com.