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Matthew Ryan, BOXERS
“BOXERS is many things—a protest, a rallying cry, a kind of Rust Belt film noir peopled with workers, bosses, lovers, and palookas—but it is first and foremost a rock and roll record.”
From the silvery burst of feedback that opens the record, to the dissolving vérité of the last notes of the final song, BOXERS is Matthew Ryan’s growling missive in the modern wilderness, a defiant howl against complacency, despair and greed.
Over a career that spans nearly two decades, the prolific Matthew Ryan has refined the raucous poetry of his songwriting, creating his own working class aesthetic where beauty and darkness often trade punches from line to line—Intelligent, minimalist, and unapologetic; it's music for humans. Along the way he has built a group of ardent fans and supporters including the American treasure that is Lucinda Williams and authors Joe Hill, Michael Koryta and Jim Shepard. His 1997 A&M Records debut, May Day, has become revered as a seminal alt-country record, with subsequent releases including East Autumn Grin, Vs The Silver State, In The Dusk of Everything and the notable “folk-tronica” (Michael Berick, allmusic.com) innovations on From a Late Night High Rise and Dear Lover cementing his place as a respected songwriter and performer.
Last winter, Ryan set up shop at Applehead Studios in Woodstock, New York with a small team: producer and multi-instrumentalist Kevin Salem, The Gaslight Anthem’s Brian Fallon on guitar, longtime Ryan collaborator Brian Bequette on bass, Joe Magistro (The Black Crowes, Rich Robinson) on drums, and Ryan himself on vocals and guitars. They hunkered down to do the work of making a loud, rattling rock album. Nearly everything was live to "tape," though Tracy Bonham later added violin to “Then She Threw Me Like a Hand Grenade."
“It was a beautiful brotherhood,” Ryan says. “In my mind, the record sounds like Crazy Horse meets early Replacements with nods to more recent bands I love like the National.” From the explosive force of the title track through the hollering gang vocals of “This One’s for You, Frankie,” to the woozy, heart-rending “Anthem for the Broken,” this is a record of big ideas and big sounds—massive blocks of distortion, machine gun drums, and lyrics like “All our heroes/Had no choice/Some busted chords/And a broken voice.”
BOXERS features the working poor in “Suffer No More,” the ruthless ethos of pure capitalists in “We Are Libertines,” and the two together in “Heaven’s Hill.” Ryan finds the humanity, scars and sneers and all, in each character. A native of Chester, PA, Ryan spent over a decade in Nashville before settling in a small town just outside Pittsburgh. All these locales are evident in his sound in their purest, finest senses—the gritty bluster of the rough side of a major metropolis, the literate but plainspoken lyrics honed in a town of songwriters, and the wintry, spacious, frustrated air of the cradle of American industry.
The sound of BOXERS is directly related to its content; a lyrically driven story exploring the collisions of hope and frustration. A story that speaks directly to the listener, armed with a resolute anger that somehow comforts, eliciting chills and fists in the air.