Dylan Rysstad caught our attention last winter with his full-length Halfway House. Rysstad, sometimes known as Dylan Thomas, is back in his hometown of Prince Rupert after a stint in Vancouver (where he played in punk bands Badamps and the Jolts). Harbours is his fifth full-length release, following a pattern of almost yearly releases since 2006.
Rysstad says the move from punk to his own brand of country/rock was a natural one since he had a tendency to write his songs on an acoustic guitar. Harbours is no exception, with opener “A Woman Has A Way” brazenly declaring itself as a twangy, rolling country tale. It’s a note Rysstad hits frequently on the 13-track piece.
There’s a note of regret in the first song that helps place it with some of Rysstad’s folkier numbers—at times he sounds like Bob Dylan. The connection ends up being funnier than you’d think: one of Rysstad’s songs was confused with one of Dylan’s and he scored a surprise bonus in royalties.
A standout example of this is “Shirley,” reminding me instantly of “Stuck Inside of a Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again”. Rysstad’s vocals go from a Southern drawl to nasally storyteller seamlessly, as though an entirely new singer has stepped up to the mic. The transition is all the more impressive because neither tone sounds out of place on this mix.
“Catch 1-22” taps into some of the rock n’ roll Rysstad talks about when describing his sound. The chorus strikes a particular harmony that reminds me of classic 60’s rock—the kind you’d play on a turntable late at night as you ease into the weekend. “Locked Book” grows out of this, bridging the three different styles of the album in one song.
In the latter half of the album, “Red Rover” takes on a psychedelic rock tone, drifting dreamily through its slow and steady rhythm. “Matador on Acid” seems to acknowledge that more directly with its own darkly whimsical tale. In fact, the second half takes on a different note entirely from how things opened, becoming a sort of throwback album as Rysstad sings, “gone but not forgotten” on “Teenage Nights”.
It’s a nice way to end things as the country, folk, and rock come together in the final songs to make for a more cohesive sound. While you’re unsure of what will come next in the first six songs, the remaining seven reveal a much stronger sense of direction. While it’s impressive to hear Rysstad’s versatility (and his Dylan-esque chops) the unity in the final tracks is what really sells me on this album.
Top Tracks: “Matador on Acid”; “Red Rover”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)