Dara Ryder is a man with a lot of words, literary references and stories to get across. At War With The Eskimos is a wordy, emotional album, propelled by the voice, and the stories therein. The songs are sung in his own Dublin accent, whether that’s intentional or not is hard to tell, but it’s a good touch, softening the Americana of the playing. The overwrought vocalisations remind me of David Eugene Edwards, and that kind of dark, brooding place that he came from.
The songs were built in the studio, around the framework of the guitar and the lyrics. There’s an array of traditional instruments, slide guitar and fiddle, the occasional soaring trumpet, creating a vibrant, down home countrified buzz. The sense throughout is that the music, however adroitly performed, always plays second fiddle, if you will, to the stories and the words. The words are intoning darkness, death and war throughout. Heavy metaphors. There’s something being worked out within the writers head here.
‘Cold Heart’, the opener, has a horn arrangement that never really takes off. ‘The Well’, with its thumping beat, sets the tone for the records more uptempo moments. It’s augmented by some sweet lapsteel playing. ‘Mister, The Birds’, is the other side of the record, the brooding melodrama with a ballad’s pace, and an Iron and Wine vibe throughout. ‘ICU Song’ suggests a death in the family, delivered in the punchy uptempo manner. The point is made, and not lingered over, but it suggests much. The album settles into it its middle at this point, being slow and mournful, for the most part. ‘Emily’ features some nice guitar work and melodising, sounding like The Phantom Band in reflective mode.
‘We Wait In Vain’ is a paean to some bird, who ain’t coming back. But then, AREN’T THEY ALL. Not just here, in Dying Embers land, but everywhere, all the time. It’s why we have art. It’s why we make lists. ‘Ode to the Shiny Pictures’, in the uptempo tradition already established, with the snare shuffle and harmonica, signals the end of the swampy centre.
‘Jody Rolled The Bones’, the title borrowed from a Richard Yates story, shows us Ryder’s unimpeachable taste in literature. “You have no right not to be alone,” Ryder double-negatives in the spiralling coda. Working that one out is like tackling an equation. Yates’ oeuvre was unflinching, ultra realism, and while there’s touches of Reality throughout, it’s also heavy with metaphor. The title could be revealing. Perhaps there’s a short story collection in our wordsmith here, perhaps a collection of poems. More work has gone into the words than the music, and while the words are carefully plotted, it falls on the array of players here to lift them elsewhere. They’ve chosen a well worn route, that of alt country rock. For developing the drama, within the music at least, the tunes go either fast or slow. The slower tracks have more about them and are more varied, musically, whereas the faster numbers sound too similar.
Recorded by Stephen Shannon it sounds terrific, there’s a multitude of players on this record who are present when needed and absent when not. Nothing really interferes with the voice, and the stories therein. Whether or not you get down with Ryder’s delivery will obviously affect how you feel about this album, but it’s worth the effort.