Ryan McGarvey: Heavy Hearted Review

I’m sincere when I say I privilege the song over instrumental acrobatics. Great songs are art. The ability to tap into human emotions is a gift. And not one to be taken lightly. But sometimes, you don’t need the art. Sometimes you just want to hear someone shred. Ryan McGarvey more than scratches that itch on Heavy Hearted, his fifth album.

McGarvey is an incredible guitarist. His solos positively reek of speed, excitement, and even danger. He hits blues, rock, and glam equally hard and equally well across a dozen original tracks. McGarvey’s also a solid singer but his strength is his sick guitar playing.

Just about every track has a moment where he rips off a lick, or a sequence of licks, and your mouth tips open. “Right Side of the Dirt” is fairly typical riff blues-rock, but he punctuates it with some fast, flashy guitar parts that are pretty much high-speed song hooks. And the solo is epic, with an arc more complicated–and more enjoyable–than the fifth season of Lost.

McGarvey takes on some slow blues numbers and those are also quite enjoyable. Because while the groove is slow, his playing isn’t. The juxtaposition of a classic, rickety blues beat against incendiary guitar is nothing new. Led Zeppelin and Jeff Beck perfected it years ago. But McGarvey’s take, with his wild-yet-controlled guitar playing, which he demonstrates on “Ain’t Enough Whiskey” and “I Should’ve Known Better” shows he’s got his own perspective on the move.

Instrumentals can be challenging to listen to. Without words to break the music up, they can sometimes feel like a rough afternoon at Guitar Center. McGarvey offers only one electric instrumental (there are two short, quiet acoustic pieces that bookend the album) and it’s a keeper. “Houston” is fast and well-constructed, beginning with a quick riff and then exploding out from it. But it’s not just about McGarvey’s speed and notes-per-second. His solos are lyrical and intense. He’s not a robot. He’s just incredibly fluent with his instrument.

Heavy Hearted even gets into straight-ahead rock. “Surrender” has a nice airy guitar riff and a cool bass line courtesy of Carmine Rojas. The song breathes in a cool way. McGarvey has his trademark guitar all over the track, but it also presents a nice showcase for drummer Logan Miles Nix and his steady rock drumming.

Heavy Hearted is going to appeal to guitar fans. McGarvey’s songs are fine but his guitar playing is where he shines. He’s both passionate and proficient, which is what you want in a rocking guitar solo.

The Review: 8.5/10

Can’t Miss Tracks

– Ain’t Enough Whiskey
– I Should’ve Known Better
– Surrender
– Houston

The Big Hit

– Houston

Review by Steven Ovadia

Steven Ovadia

Steven Ovadia interviews blues artists about their songwriting process for Working Mojo.

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