Matthew Ryan continues string of remarkable albums with 'Dear Lover'

There are two options: Either Matthew Ryan lives a more turbulent life than most people, or he’s just that much better at shaping the tumult of everyday existence into songs compelling enough to keep you transfixed and leave you a little heartbroken.

Although he’s been making records since the mid-’90s, Ryan’s breakthrough of sorts came on his stunning 2006 album “From a Late Night Highrise,” a wrenching meditation on the incarceration of his brother (for reasons unspecified) and the death of a close friend. The follow-up, last year’s “Matthew Ryan Vs. the Silver State,” found him coming to terms with the past.

He’s living very much in the present on his newest, “Dear Lover” (Dear Future Collective). It’s an album focused on love, on “the things between lovers that often go unsaid,” as he puts it in the press notes. But in typical Ryan fashion, it’s not as simple as all that. He began writing these songs last winter while he waited with a loved one in a hospital emergency room.

“The circumstances are private,” he writes in the liner notes, and his oblique treatment clears the way for listeners to imprint the songs with their own meanings. (Read the lyrics here.)

He and his collaborators — Molly Thomas (violin), Scott Simontacchi (mandolin), Brian Bequette (guitar, bass, accordion), Billy Mercer (bass), Amanda Shires (violin) and Rod Picott (vocals) — give the songs a close, intimate feel that grows deeper with each listen.

Ryan sings in hushed, sometimes desperate tones, steering his scratchy voice over a blend of acoustic guitar, glimmering piano and a relentless beat on “We Are Snowmen,” and sighing roughly through bleeping synthesizer, squalling guitar and muted staccato drums on opener “City Life.” A huge overdriven guitar part frames “The Wilderness,” while DJ Spark lends a dark, glossy techno sheen to “Spark.”

It’s the latest in a string of remarkable albums by Ryan, who adds a third option to the choices above: he does both, and 12 albums in, he’s only getting better at the latter.

— Text by Eric R. Danton, photo by Scott Simontacchi

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