Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
A mouth and eyes can get tainted just by doing what they're supposed to do, just acting normally. They have no choice but to feel and sense depreciating terms and recollections. They have no side-tracks, just the directions they've been pointed and the objects that the hands offer it. We needn't stop with those two. The witnessed depreciation can go on and on, down the pole - from the eyes and the mouth to the skin that feels it from head-to-toe. Not only do all of the parts conclude what's been concluded since there have been ways to express it - that the day we're born is the day we start to die - but they go one step further and conclude that they're not the only ones.
It's an obvious kind of understanding, but it's grounding when it's really allowed to be soaked in, to look around and get that everything - from what it is now, will surely be gone someday and there might even be a shortcut to that fulfillment. There is a detachment from the wholesome way that our senses bring in the information that they do that makes it all take on a gritty, ragtag aftertaste that's bitter like deprecation. We learn that some of the things that we'd rather not believe to be the way they actually are happen to be so - through all of the data that is pulled in by those reluctant eyes and ears and mouths and skin. Matthew Ryan has a way of making your body quiver with his broken-hearted, rootsy Americana. He makes the eyes feel as if they've been transplanted out of a deceased or nearly deceased 95-year-old man who had survived the Great Depression. He makes the mouth feel as if the words that are coming out of it don't have your taste, but the taste of a dilemma that could have arisen because of a debilitating drought that was wiping out acres and acres of cash crop and there was nothing to do but to sit by and take it in the gut.
The concerns and troubles that Ryan depicts on his latest album, Matthew Ryan Vs. The Silver State, are not those of the American farmer in their realest essence, but they are of the American man, who is forever tied to land and hard, back-breaking work days. Ryan sings about spitting that American dirt and though it's a declaration to not buying into the always forefront sales pitches and to embracing all of the real intimacy that does a soul good, there is a feeling that he's building a mystery, some song that tackles so much more than all of that. "American Dirt" feels like the thesis for the album as a whole piece of work and it's a song that you can return to again and again and hear the fight in his voice, the staggering, almost knocked out of the ring wobble to his admonitions and roughhewn lyrics. They feel like someone who has lived so much damn life, been awake for a record consecutive number of hours, using his hands and burning eyes to be productive for the bigger "man" and yet he's been actually awake for none of it because there's no pot of gold at the end of the week.
It's a working man's soundtrack. It's the bridge between the young men who are leaving college to seek out gainful employment or the farm boys heading back home to work the family farm, with a belly full of piss and vinegar and a desire to move mountains, and the men who have been scuffed up, bettered and bested through years of disappointments. They have a big TV, they fish when they can, they've got a family of their own and things aren't all bad. They can't complain much, but there is a void. Ryan sings, "I crossed my fingers until they broke," and these are the bits and pieces of the broken fingers and the broken hopes, the shattered scraps of the glossy dreamy life that seemed at the fingertips at 23 years of age.