The break-up album can be an artist’s defining career moment. Time after time it has been proven that heartache and relationship breakdowns have fuelled the writing and inspired some of the greatest albums of all time. Whether we talk Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’, Nick Cave’s ‘The Boatman’s Call’ or Bob Dylan’s ‘Blood On The Tracks’, writing and recording music can be an exorcism of the pain, anger and confusion of a break-up. It has been said that when an artist is at their most vulnerable…they are at their best.
When Texan singer/songwriter Ryan Hamilton was faced with an unexpected divorce last year, he was a broken and confused man. He did the only sane/insane thing he felt he could do. He cut off his hair, packed up his troubles in the back of his car and took to the road with just an acoustic guitar and his dog Peaches for company. Travelling Route 66 and living in the back of his car, this time of solitude and soul searching was designed to ease the heartbreak and maybe help him find direction. Whether it made things better or worse, you would have to ask Ryan, but it certainly spawned new music and a new album.
Taking its title from one of Ryan’s heroes, Jack Kerouac, ‘Nowhere To Go But Everywhere’ is a trip through the mind of a man searching for answers and re-evaluating his life, to a soundtrack of radio-friendly Americana, backed by his transatlantic rock ‘n’ roll band. Recorded at his home studio in Texas and finished off back in the UK by his band and producer Dave Draper, this is a more introspective and emotional journey than we are accustomed to, from a man who deals in catchy, power pop ditties.
Opener ‘Only A Dream’ sets the tone with sweet acoustic guitars and Ryan’s even sweeter vocals. It has definite Tom Petty vibes as Americana marries dreamy, folk pop to perfection. Highlighted by swathes of keys and a rhythm section who know exactly how to take it where it needs to go. It builds nicely in the pre-chorus with great chord progression, to soaring vocals in the chorus. An emotive and harmony soaked introduction to the album.
Second track (and second single) ‘Oh No’ is a duet with Letters To Cleo singer Kay Hanley. Classic album titles make up pretty much all the lyrics in this clever celebration of musical influences. Upbeat and summery, this is more in the vein of what we know and love from the Texan songwriter. The juxtaposition of male/female vocals in the chorus is complete radio fodder. How many album references can you spot?
Yet, ‘Jesus & John Lennon’ is probably the most radio friendly single on offer. That “na-na-na-na” intro is an instant earworm, both euphoric and spiritual in equal measures. Co-written by Steven Van Zandt and featuring The Alarm’s Mike Peters on backing vocals, this could be the happiest sounding song about a break-up ever written. Referencing Brian Jones &The Rolling Stones and Martin Luther & the Catholic Church, it’s a break-up song about how some things were never meant to be.
The 11 track album feels like a journey, as we travel with Ryan through many emotions. From happy-go-lucky love songs such as ‘Out Of My League’ and Geordie anthem ‘Newcastle Charm’, onto the struggles of a religious upbringing and going back to the roots on the likes of ‘Can I Get An Amen’ and ‘Southern Accents’ respectively. Even though it is mostly upbeat, throughout there is a sense of yearning and heartbreak. It only hits home on the heartfelt ballad ‘Don’t Fall Apart’. Prime mixtape fodder for the girl you love, pedal steel gives a countrified, Americana vibe. A song overflowing with sentiment, as he sings the words of a man coming to terms with his whole world crumbling around him.
‘We Gave It Hell’ seems like the natural album closer. A goodbye and thanks for all the fish moment, as Ryan bids farewell to past love, and looks forward to pastures new to an accompaniment of pedal steel and understated percussion. Album closer proper ‘Pick Yourself Up’ seems like more of a reprise, as Ryan continues the theme of starting over accompanied by a lonesome piano.
It must be said that Dave Draper has done a great job of capturing Nashville vibes as he did on ‘Grand Ole Otley’, Ryan’s collaborative covers album with Terrorvision frontman Tony Wright. And as always the long time rhythm section of Rob Lane on bass and Mickey Richards on drums play their parts to perfection.
To avoid being consumed by the sadness of his marriage break-up, Ryan Hamilton has used songwriting as therapy and channelled his emotions into his art. This is not an angry album, it’s more of a cathartic look back over a failed relationship. Dissecting what was good and not dwelling on the bad, trying to figure out where it all went wrong and where to go from here.
As he bids farewell to one chapter of his life and looks forward to what the future brings, it seems through no fault of his own or any grand design, Ryan Hamilton has written a poignant and confessional album that could well be the best of his career.
Buy ‘Nowhere To Go But Everywhere’ – Here
Author: Ben hughes