Like top shelf whiskey, country music is best served straight up. This is what Ryan Sutherland serves up in Sleepwalker. Pure unadulterated country, without any neotraditional, pop, or indie-rock influences to water it down. If you listen to what passes for country these days, and wonder what happened to musicians like Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, give this album a spin.
I don’t trust any musician who works the bar venues and doesn’t have a decent drinking song. This 8-track long album’s got two. Sleepwalker kick starts with one of them, “Jimmy Tequilla.” Sutherland, with his guitar and slide, sings about the kind of guy everyone knows and shakes their head about. After the second chorus, the conclusion of song is told from Jimmy Tequilla’s perspective: You see, I can’t love nobody / as much as I love to hate me / She is like a deep dark well / A Better reflection of myself/ That’s enough to dull the pain. And in that moment, he becomes relatable as we realize that there’s a little bit of Jimmy in each of us.
“Bar Weirdos,” the other drinking song, features harmonica interludes as Sutherland turns a phrase about the communal nature of local watering holes. Well, leave your politics and your worries behind / Drink your communion straight from the vine / Here at the bar we’re all the same. Although the song is set at a bar stool, it’s the kind of song that’ll make you want to dust off your old cowboy boots and kick up your heels.
Sutherland continues to exhibit his ability to spin a yarn and set it to tune in “The Ballad of the Trap Man” and “Twisted Liz.” Interspersed are some songs that aren’t story-based: a contemplative medley called “Maybe Ya Can,” the longing reminiscence “Yuletide Regrets,” and the soul-searching “Two Bedroom Apartment.”
Sleepwalker was recorded and engineered by Eric Pinales at Nothing to Lose Studios in Irondequoit, NY. The album art featuring a hiker in the mountains was designed by Adam Kujawski. Sutherland wrote and performed the entire album himself.
Key tracks: Jimmy Tequilla, Bar Weirdos, Maybe Ya Can, Yuletide Regrets