Regret Over the Wires
Regret Over the Wires is Matthew Ryan’s most accessible record to date, and one of his most accomplished. Falling somewhere between the overt sweeping rock moves of his second album East Autumn Grin and 2001’s quiet, intimate Concussion, this record finds Ryan putting his evocative sandpaper rasp to good use on well-drawn, often inventively poetic songs.
Both the slow burn opener “Return To Me” and the rocker “Come Home” are sweet, busted heart love songs, the latter leavened with Ryan’s subtle humor. “Our cat is sad and withdrawn / Our dog just stares at the lawn / None of us are eating / I think they blame me you’re gone,” he sings.
He moves into social commentary on tracks like the venomous “Caged Bird,” lamenting the influence of TV talk shows, infomercials and soda used to sell lifestyles. And on the hypnotic, Celtic-tinged “I Hope Your God Has Mercy On Mine,” he offers: “They’d charge you for the air that you breathe / If they could only get that meter on your face.”
The real highlights here, though, are the impressive rocker “The Little Things,” reprised from one of two internet-only, D.I.Y. releases Ryan has issued in recent years and the lyrically dense, image-filled “Trouble Doll,” a song Ryan wrote about his friend and mentor Lucinda Williams. “Heartache sure owes you / All the happiness in this world,” Ryan sings.
Ryan also offers one of his catchiest rockers in “Sweetie.” Against a subtle keyboard riff he sings “You know if I wanted to believe in something I’d believe in you.” And on the nice country ballad “Nails,” there is more of Ryan’s trademark humor: “All I need is a little bit of luck / The kind that comes with a good haircut.”
Producer Doug Lancio (Patty Griffin) mostly gets things right in the sound department, organically surrounding Ryan’s vocals in ambience with everything from dulcimer to synth. A gimmick-y drum effect on the Cure-ish “I Can’t Steal You” isn’t a major misstep, but “Trouble Doll” sounds artificially shoe-horned into an ill-fitting arrangement. Ryan revisits a solo acoustic vibe on “Every Good Thing,” a glacially-paced number that makes Concussion sound like a Kylie Minogue record.
Throughout it all though, Regret Over the Wires is a perfectly poignant and bittersweet collection infused with personality and abundant talent. Ryan’s songs are good enough that other singers should be beating down his door to record them but unique and personal enough that you can only imagine him singing them. And that haunted rasp is a surprisingly versatile instrument, conveying both the brutally honest resignation and cautious optimism of these remarkable songs.