Mixing the seemingly inharmonious genres of jazz and country, Ryan Driver deftly navigates his own genre of music- down home lyrical jazz. The songs on this album are carefully crafted, both lyrically and musically, so much so that I wonder if Driver is a genius, or crazy, or both.
Opening with “Dead End Street,” Driver’s velvety soft voice blends with a purring steel guitar to conjure images of lonely avenues inhabited by solitary troubadours playing the blues. It’s splendid in its moodiness.
“Am I Still Too Late” is where I first noticed Driver’s lyrical brilliance. Driver sings “Am I always waiting for the perfect time to hesitate…I miss you most at least when I’m lost…so my clock won’t tick or talk to me.” Using lyrical paradoxes, Driver creates the possibility of a myriad of meanings for his songs- and they sound good, too. I’m kind of in awe of his poetic ingenuity.
“Everything Must Spin” is, for me, where Driver’s lyrical and musical brilliance collided perfectly. It definitely spins in all aspects of the song, attacking the senses and creating a momentum that leaves you reeling- but aching for more. It’s my favorite track on the album.
“Tell Me True” is another beauty, with a more acoustic sound and sparser vocals. The song spoke to me like an old Nick Drake tune. Driver’s voice is sweet and tender, yet the song is ridiculously sad. Very beautiful indeed.
Who’s Breathing? does seem like a contradiction in itself. The album feels distinctly divided into two halves. The first half, which I adore, with the mellow sounds and artful arrangements, and then, the second half.
I’m not sure if I just don’t get it (yet?), but I definitely prefer the first half to the second. “It’s Tulip Season,” the sixth song on the album, has a decidedly different sound. Piano accompanies Driver throughout the song, as does a somewhat dissonant steel pedal that doesn’t seem to fit. The song feels choppy and abrupt, nowhere near the seamless flow of the first five. Here’s a video of said song. Please watch and let me know what you think.
The last five songs on Who’s Breathing? feel a lot more experimental and free form, and if these are improvisational, I guess I can respect that. “Don’t Want To Leave Here Without You” is a little more cohesive than “It’s Tulip Season,” but still not as lovely as the top half of the album.
Perhaps I need to know more about jazz to appreciate the second half of Driver’s album. Perhaps the reason I appreciate the first half more is that I know indie folk like the back of my hand. Perhaps. As a whole, I really like this record. I just like the first part better than the second. Ryan Driver is a modern day poet and I’m on his bandwagon. I’ll take the strange with the familiar and embrace it.