From the opening down-strum bar chords of empowerment anthem ‘Dark’, it’s clear that a special album is about to unfold. “Way out here, you can feel it coming,” Ryan sings in the record’s first line, his voice inflected with grit but beholding a strength that doesn’t truly unleash until the song’s climax. “I ain’t afraid of the dark,” he belts, setting out the soaring statement for an album that is defined by its highs and lows. On ‘Rx’, Ryan flirts with pain and darkness but ultimately arrives triumphant, stronger for the hardship endured.
Following the uplifting crash of guitars on ‘Dark’, the growling ‘Rum and Roses’ celebrates the vices that get us high whilst simultaneously destroying us. “Sometimes you just wanna hold something beautiful, even though it makes your hands bleed, it leaves your heart so hollow.” The theme of addiction and dependency continues through the slow burning ‘Habit’, as we find a woman who leaves relationships as soon as the honeymoon shine begins to fade. Ryan warns that her actions have become habit, reminding her that she’ll never find what she’s looking for if she’s too busy searching for reasons not to commit.
On aching ballad ‘Vegas’, we’re dropped right into the heart of hedonistic Sin City itself as the narrator experiences withdrawal from a woman met in the home of indulgence. Even the radio-ready guitar stomp ‘Fast’, with its sultry embracing of love and lust in the fast lane, touches on the heady highs and lows of addiction in a fresh take on the “love is a drug” theme that has become so superfluous on country radio lately. ‘Still Yours’ meanwhile flips the coin by showcasing the comedown that follows the end of a relationship. “What am I supposed to do? I feel like my whole world belongs to you,” he cries, surrounded by reminders of the love lost as she continues to occupy his mind through every second. ‘Gravediggers’ goes further, utilising a number of graveyard and murder metaphors to illustrate the emotional torment and destruction wielded by his lover as she slowly drives him mad. “I’ll love you ‘till the end I swear,” he insists on the haunting ‘When This World Ends’, an apocalyptic reflection on the power of love transcending everything else.
Intriguingly, spliced right in the centre of the album are two songs that rather differ from the rest of the content. The sub-minute country ditty ‘Jesus Was A Capricorn’ serves as the intro to ‘Kristofferson’, a Jessi Alexander that happens to be one of my favourite songs of the past few years. Celebrating the hardships and incredible artistry of the legend, it fashions something of a light relief amidst the darkness and inner strife that ‘Rx’ delivers so potently.
The record closes with the title track and ‘If I Had A Horse’, tracks which hold poignancy in their subtlety. “It takes a little more medicine than it used to take, it takes a little more of the highs to chase the lows away, it takes a little more of the night to make it through the day,” Ryan sings on ‘Rx’, his heartache bursting at the seams of the melody. It’s a song that touches upon the increasing emotional and physical pain of ageing, while also pointing towards the huge prescription pain killer problem in the US. It is quite simply an anthem of incredible proportions, and one of the best songs I have heard this year.
‘If I Had A Horse’ closes ‘Rx’ on a dissonant note, loneliness and emptiness seeping through the cracks in the sparse and haunting instrumentation, as Ryan sifts gloomily through his memories and wishes he could only go back to those simpler times and change how things ended up. Instead of ending the album on the more resolute note of ‘Rx’, ‘If I Had A Horse’ allows for a moment of reflection rarely experienced in such purity in the rush of modern country music.
‘Rx’ is a career record, an excellent collection that stands together as a whole in addition to delivering 12 unique and individual tracks. Ryan’s gritty and hard-worn vocals guide us through the highs and lows of addiction, no matter which form it takes, drawing from his own experiences as well as allowing us to insert our own. Not only is this record extremely well-written, it is well-sung and it is well-produced – a rarity in today’s market. Ryan Beaver straddles that guitar-driven country/Americana borderline like a seasoned pro, and I hope more people get the chance to hear him.
‘Rx’ is out today. Listen here.