In a list I did on LastFM at the arse-end of last year, I did one of those customary ‘Best Of…’ lists. In second place (just behind the Soulsavers’ Broken), was Matthew Ryan’s heartbreakingly wonderful Dear Lover – an album stripped down to the very barest of emotion performed and produced almost completely by Matthew alone.
So it came as a bit of a surprise when this acoustic version was announced – just how is it possible to pare the originals down further without going round to going round to everyone’s house and performing it for them? Well, by making an album that sounds exactly as if that’s what he’s doing is as good a method as any…
Feeling like an intimate show for close friends, Matthew Ryan takes each song from Dear Lover and simply performs them alone with an acoustic guitar with occasional, sparing cello accompaniment from David Henry. The original album is performed in its entirety, albeit in a different order and with a new song (Beauty Has a Name) placed carefully into the mix, which furthers the illusion of being party to an exclusive gig.
Where the Dear Lover originals were very fragile, delicate affairs, the acoustic versions spin the songs into impossibly spiderweb-thin elegance, whilst retaining and indeed expanding the emotional punch. Everything is boiled down to its absolute essence here, and it’s an incredibly moving result.
The most obvious differences are found in the songs that originally employed a more electronic approach such as Snowmen, or noisier efforts such as Wilderness and City Life. The songs lose nothing for being pared down to their acoustic arrangements, and the subsequent difference in delivery (both instrumental and vocal) gives them extra shades that hold the listener’s attention perfectly.
And even on a song such as the beautiful Some Streets Leads Nowhere which was pretty much voice and guitar only the first around, there’s still almost intangible evidence of a more spontaneous and isolated approach to the music.
As with first time round, it’s a very emotionally-charged album with incredibly personal lyrics that sometimes border on the voyeuristically uncomfortable for the listener. This new approach to the same songs oddly make the words and sentiments a lot more shared and open for the sparser delivery, and the song that I feel is the positive lynchpin of the whole album (both editions), Your Museum that perfectly ties the songs together with its “the darkest parts are behind me now, and soon the sun will rise” line and the entire record suddenly becomes much brighter thanks to a “fuller” approach to his guitar playing compared to the lonelier picking evidenced elsewhere in the recording. The overall effect from this is an album that runs the whole gamut of feelings associated with the scarier, sadder end of relationships – mostly downbeat, resigned and frightened, but retaining a silver lining of hope throughout.
It’s certainly something that I would recommend to anyone and everyone, along with its original form (preferably both). It’s available on iTunes now, and for those of a disposition that requires a more three-dimensional release, it can be bought direct from the artist on his website.