CD: Experiences
Artist: Ryan Michael Richards

ExperiencesAcoustic guitarist Ryan Michael Richards is part of a younger generation of instrumentalists to whom the torch has been passed, carrying on the legacy of virtuoso artists like Michael Hedges, Alex de Grassi, and Windham Hill Records founder Will Ackerman, who actually produced Ryan’s album at his famed Imaginary Road Studios in Vermont. I asked Ryan what it was like to record with an iconic Grammy winning producer like Will, to which he replied: “It was a dream come true. For a very long time, I had wanted to record my own music in a major recording studio. I consider Will an influence on my playing, and having the opportunity to work with him was awesome. I can recall being very nervous, but he helped me to cope with that. He and engineer/ co-producer Tom Eaton are a great team. Imaginary Road Studios is an inspiring place with beautiful surroundings. It is a place that you can feel comfortable in to record music and not feel distracted.” One of the tracks from Ryan’s album appears on the recently released compilation entitled The Gathering II, which was produced by Will Ackerman and Tom Eaton.


I always find it interesting to hear about how musicians and recording artists came to choose a career in music. Some may have come from a musical family and began studying an instrument at an early age, some baby boomers may have seen the Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show and determined right then and there that music was for them, or it could have been any number of internal or external circumstances that were deciding factors. In Ryan’s case, he describes the beginning of his path in this way: “I was about fourteen when I started to play. Around that time I was diagnosed with having an auditory processing disorder, and from what I was told, the arts are a great way of coping with a learning disability. So my mom and dad had encouraged me to take up playing an instrument. Since I loved listening to it, I chose the guitar. In time it became a lifelong love, and I really wanted to pursue music in one way or another.”


It was surprising to learn that Ryan considered rock star Eddie Van Halen as one of his earlier influences, since the electric Ryan Michael Richardsguitar pyrotechnics of EVH are light years from the sensitive acoustic fingerstyle guitar picking found in Ryan’s decidedly more new age music. However, in his words: “I like all kinds of music. I do not lean to just one or two genres. I can be in my car with the scan button on my radio to find a song that can catch my ear. I could listen Metallica one minute and then Miles Davis the next. For me, if it sounds good, I’ll listen to it.”


And for me, Ryan’s music sounds good as well, so let’s delve deeper into his recording entitled Experiences. The album opens with a sunny upbeat tune called “Her Garden,” that right from the start establishes that Ryan is an accomplished guitarist who has obviously spent much time honing his craft. One of the many benefits of recording at Imaginary Road Studios is the access to some of the finest studio musicians available, and Ryan’s compositions certainly put their talents to good use. This track features accompaniment on keyboard by Tom Eaton and the electric violin of Derrik Jordan, who dances both gingerly and soulfully around Ryan’s nimble finger picking and bass playing, making for a lively introduction to the album that leaves you wanting more.


Cape MayMusicians are often inspired by particular places that are special to them and for Ryan the quaint seaside resort town of Cape May, NJ is one of them. Track 3, “Pathway To Love” reflects the memory of proposing to his wife there, and later spending a good portion of their honeymoon enjoying the sandy beaches and storybook gingerbread houses it is famous for. This song also features ambient trumpet and flugelhorn master Jeff Oster adding spacious melodic accents to Ryan’s rolling arpeggios. A number of other songs on the recording, such as “Victorian Love,” “Coastline,” “On The Way To The Shore,” and “Townbank Bay” all derive inspiration from that area. “Coastline” is an intriguing ensemble piece that includes a flute-like electronic wind instrument called a lyricon, played by world-class session musician, Premik. Joining them are Tom Eaton on percussion, and the maestro Ackerman himself playing lead acoustic guitar. Ryan’s playing in the song, “On The Way To The Shore,” has a free-flowing, wind in the hair feeling that is beautifully accented by the layered ethereal vocals of Noah Wilding. Incidentally, the photograph on the album’s cover is of the landmark lighthouse at Cape May in the distance.


A lovely tune with a real heartfelt demeanor is “Joyous Days,” which includes the cello of Paul Winter Consort memberguitar Eugene Friesen, frequent Will Ackerman collaborator Jill Haley on English horn, as well as the multi-talented Tom Eaton on electric bass. As befitting it’s title, the solo guitar piece, “Day Of Play,” creates a merry mood that provides nice ending to the album, and puts the spotlight exclusively on Ryan’s talents for the final bow.


Here, Ryan talks about the album and what it means to him: “Experiences… unique and precious moments that stand out in your mind and resonate within your soul… moments to be committed to your memory and engraved upon your heart. Music can be a powerful medium to capture the essence of an experience, to allow it to transcend time and to touch many hearts. My hope is that my songs will speak to you to transport you on a journey to share in these beautiful and joyful experiences.”


Will Ackerman

Will Ackerman

Echoing these sentiments about the music and the artist who created it is Will Ackerman who had this to say about Ryan: “Ryan Michael Richards is a guitarist whose heart is in every note. He seems incapable of anything that isn’t true to him. This brilliant artistic honesty is the hallmark of what he has created in Experiences. These are lovely melodies, which seem immediately familiar without being in any way imitative. Whether in his solos or the ensemble work, which includes a stellar list of award winning musicians, Experiences will captivate the listener”.


I certainly agree with this assessment. Ryan exhibits, not only a well developed and diverse playing style, but he has a fine sense of composition and arrangement that includes knowing when “not” to play, leaving space for the song to breathe. The range of emotions his music evokes is also quite exceptional. I find it extremely encouraging to see younger people like Ryan, and the many fine artists on The Gathering II embracing a tradition of finely crafted acoustic instrumental music.