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TRACK LIST: 1. Totality 1:06 2. Escape Velocity 5:34 3. Heritage 5:29 4. The Choir of Eden 5:30 5. The Crosses of Annagh 3:26 6. Aeolian Rhapsody 6:03 7. Big Shotz 4:54 8. Free to Fly 5:30 9. Spirit's Call 5:34 10. Wes Is More 5:40 11. Cosmic Calypso 4:35 12. Now & Forever 4:02 13. Heritage Reprise 2:50 LINEUP: Jimmy Ryan – el. & lap steel guitars, flutar, sitar; theremin Johnny Ryan – el. & ac, guitars, sitar; keyboards; accordion William Kopecky – basses, fretless bass; glockenspiel Johnny Mrozek – drums, percussion; programming
Prolusion. Hailing from Illinois, the Ryan brothers, Jimmy and Johnny, have been playing together for over 30 years, both as members of various bands and as session men. THE FLYIN’ RYAN BROTHERS was born in the early Nineties, and their debut album, “Sibling Revelry”, was released in 1996. “Totality” is their sixth release, recorded as a quartet with the participation of drummer Johnny Mrozek and virtuoso bassist William Kopecky, who had both previously collaborated with the Ryans.
Analysis. Even if it may sound like a dated, unfashionable genre, instrumental guitar rock is fortunately alive and well – thanks to bands like The Flyin’ Ryan Brothers, who, far from being ashamed of their ‘cult’ status, are dedicated to delivering the goods at every release, instead of chasing after commercial success. Completely devoted to their art, Jimmy and Johnny Ryan have been through the ups and downs of the music world in the past three decades or so without losing faith in their vision. “Totality”, their sixth studio album, is a monument to that vision, and to the brothers’ ability to show their considerable chops without descending into a pointless display of technical wizardry. When, in the early ’70, the brothers first heard Wishbone Ash’s twin lead guitar approach, it was a turning point in their budding career. To the two young musicians it was tantamount to a revelation, something that left an indelible mark on their playing and composition. Though the English band’s use of harmony lead has been extremely influential on high-profile acts such as Iron Maiden, in the case of the two brothers from Illinois it has provided an extra incentive for them to push the boundaries of their style and sound, based on a friendly yet keen form of competition – the ‘sibling rivalry’ paraphrased in the title of their debut album. Much in the way of albums like Jeff Beck’s “Wired” or “Blow by Blow”, or Steve Morse’s solo output, “Totality” takes disparate influences and fuses them with a solid, unabashedly rock foundation. The title-track opens the album with an orgy of synths and church organ in the best pomp-rock tradition, leading directly to the full-tilt assault of Escape Velocity, a powerful rocker (somewhat reminiscent of some of Beck’s or Gary Moore’s efforts) where the heavy guitar and organ riffage and pounding drums are underpinned by William Kopecky’s impossibly nimble-fingered bass work. As a matter of fact, even though this is a guitar-based effort, I would not hesitate to say that Kopecky (also known as a member of Par Lindh Project, Yeti Rain and Far Corner) is the real star of the album. His magnificent fretless bass lines hold the compositions together and complement the Ryan brothers’ fluid, fiery guitars as well as working in perfect synch with Johnny Mrozek’s excellent drumming. While Big Shotz is another fast-paced, hard rocking piece with sterling bass and drum work driving the track along and meshing seamlessly with the twin harmony lead, and Cosmic Calypso approaches prog-metal territory, other tracks reveal the Ryans’ more sensitive, melodic side – like the soulful The Choir of Eden, with a very intense bass line paralleling the guitars; or the soothing, lullaby-like Now & Forever, almost a love song without words referencing Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’. The Ryan brothers’ Irish roots show instead in the folksy, jig-like pace of The Crosses of Annagh and the wistful Celtic vibe of Heritage, with the guitars mimicking the distinctive sound of bagpipes. On the other hand, Wes Is More (dedicated to jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery) displays clear jazz/fusion influences, and even some Latin overtones, with a breathtaking performance by Kopecky and a tasteful, emotional guitar solo in the second half of the track; while Johnny Mrozek’s percussion work comes into the spotlight in the exhilarating Free to Fly. The short Heritage Reprise closes the album in rousing fashion, with the twin leads at full blast. From the above description, it should be quite obvious that this is not a disc that pretends to break any new ground. However, there is no shame in honouring a long-standing musical tradition, especially when the music on offer is of such quality. “Totality” is an album that can be appreciated by everyone who loves great music, and – unlike much of the output of many modern ‘guitar heroes’ – not just by those technique buffs who like to count how many notes a minute someone can play.
Conclusion. “Totality” is an extremely classy example of instrumental guitar rock in the mould of Jeff Beck or Steve Morse, where the six strings are not used as a mere way to show off the players’ technical skills, but are rather at the service of the composition. Groundbreaking it may not be, but it will definitely prove a treat for lovers of rock music that is flawlessly executed, yet full of warmth and emotion.
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