I owe Jimmy Ryan a debt of gratitude. Not only is he one heck of a nice guy, but this southpaw mandolin player turned me onto a whole new musical world with his tiny instrument. And he plays it mighty fine himself, demonstrated skillfully in this release, Turn Back The World, from one of his ensembles called Wooden Leg. This recording, capturing the group live in Boston, is the band’s first release since their 1996 self-titled debut, but boy do they sound solid.
Turn Back The World finds the four core members of Wooden Leg – Ryan [mandolin/vocals], Brian Dunton [bass], Mickey Bones [drums], and Joe Kessler [fiddle] – together on stage again, alongside guitarist Duke Levine, steadily rocking through an 11-song set of originals, traditional tunes, and a couple covers. They dig into a few songs from their debut, opening up with “Champaign,” a dirge-like tune whose lyrics paint a dark image in the mind, while Levine and Dunton’s guitar lines encase the words in a richly textured frame and Kessler and Ryan add flourish to the edges.
While not the album performance, this rendition will give you an idea of what to expect.
In this video, guitarist Russell Chudnofsky stands in for Duke Levine.
They continue, tearing through great renditions of “Face Up” and “I Got A Feeling,” both from Ryan’s solo album Lost Diamond Angel, oozing energy from the stage. Meanwhile, their version of “Relax Your Mind”, originally by Lead Belly, stretches out its musical legs and makes itself at home, giving time for Kessler, Ryan, and Levine to gather fretboard kindling for a notably fiery display. Considering how well-played this collection is, one might be surprised to hear that it was recorded without the band’s knowledge, the group only discovering later that their sound technician had bottled the evening’s notes.
Turn Back The World is a welcome return for Wooden Leg as a band. Sure, there are a few rough patches present, but in an age where many live albums pick and choose the best version of songs over the course of a series of shows or an entire tour, the consistency and skill they display in a single session is both impressive and refreshing. If you like folk, bluegrass, or 12-bar blues shuffles, the fine men of Wooden Leg won’t disappoint.
Purchase Turn Back The World: iTunes | Amazon | From The Band
For more on Wooden Leg and Jimmy Ryan, visit:
Jimmy Ryan's Official Website
Wooden Leg's Official Website