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Ryan Alvanos is a poet by training, phrase-smith by trade, songwriter by passion, busker by calling, and whim-blown vagabond by good fortune. He’s trotted the globe toting instruments and spilling ink on his ever changing here and now. Place after place, he peruses the lines of his pocket-sized Moleskines and the under-thumbed pages of the Western songbook for tunes that fit each of his impromptu stages — from Boston’s street corners to Hyderabad’s Hindi-dinned nightspots.
From Here is Ryan’s latest. It features a heaping helping of local-crème musicians, including Tom Bianchi, Sean Staples, Eric Royer, Dan Blakeslee and Vance Gilbert. The series of songs studies places and hinges squeaklessly on lovingly turned phrases. At the heart of this album are Ryan’s fluent finger picking and lyrics that shimmy between whim and worry, East and West, abundance and scarcity, and between taking off and staying put.
It all began on an almost empty New England seaside when a seagull zeroed-in on an unemployed and soon-to-be wet behind the ears heartland transplant, and with the accuracy of an optical clock, let one fly. Hair a-dripping, his afternoon in shambles, Ryan retreated to a bar bathroom and found a paper towel. He did what he could, and on the back, in blue ink on brown paper, he wrote the first in a series of lyrics inspired by places: three verses and a chorus all pay homage to this particular south-of-Beantown Seaside and spitefully, make no mention of the seagull.
Things improved. The note-worthy places and the songs kept coming. His Somerville busking spot offered up an ode to Davis Square in "Honey Locust Suite." A double-whammy homage to street meat and to Malvina Reynolds called "Little Food Trucks" waltzes away about Manhattan’s street-level staple, and the brooding "Rooftops" — “where at sunset, one would be a fool to miss the view” — ponders its skyline through the eyes of failed poet-savior, Walt Whitman. Elsewhere, "None the Less" howls, “let sunrise hit the spires like a million other mornings” from Oxford, England through the eyes of a squatter’s lapdog.
Some of "From Here" is about sticking around, and the rest is about leaving. A couple of physicist-lovebirds “smiling, quantifying complicated calculuses” are the heros in "Talkin’ Quantum Beat Nuptial Blues," an old-time cross-country skedaddle-nanny. A private park in New York City gives way to a great escape, a dozen verses, and a moment of class-consciousness in "Prisoner of Fortune’s Lament."
Travel turns terror-wary in the understated "7:30"’s uneasy lyric: “It’s shy of 7:30. Every wondering blessed breath asks how much luck each touchdown pushes and how much we’ve got left.” The album’s title track considers a turbulent yet beckoning India where “some angry god keeps shaking sabers” alongside a stateside Gandhi statue.
These tracks also reflect the dreary economic climate from whence they came. A soon-to-be-former-homeowner writes a catchy letter to macroeconomist John Maynard Keynes — “The banks won’t take to lending till the markets turn their trending / cause we all stopped spending like it’s going out of style” — and a sad cowboy turns to the business lexicon to bemoan the discovery of a love triangle — “I was your man until demand got outstripped by supply” — in "Triple Bottom Line."
Ryan is setting out to plough the fertile middle ground between Guthrie and Shakespeare. Fleet finger style and savvy lyrics result in memorable yet oddball tunes and live performances that leave audiences stroking their chins and tapping their feet, as if it were easy.