The easiest way of describing a new act to someone who hasn’t heard of them is, of course, to draw comparison with an established artist. The ‘guy with guitar’ genus is hardly under-subscribed, but new artists like Ryan McMullan should be assessed on their musical merits before a review is seasoned with any “better than…” or “the next…” type comparisons. With that in mind we took his ‘Listen’ EP for a spin.
The first thing that jumps out of this four-track EP is the northern Irish singer’s impressive voice. He tackles the modern pop ballad with a bluesy vocal and the faintest and most tasteful of country twangs.
The EP opener Holding Me Down does a good job of putting this vocal strength right in the foreground. It does, however, flirt dangerously with that sturdy rhythm championed by every busker from Henry St to Stephen’s Green with a cajón drum.
Title track Listen is a pared-back offering of vocal and blues guitar. It’s an intelligent simplification that, again, presents the vocal and lyrics as the focal point.
Time to Make a Change has more in terms of production value, and captures a glimmer of that one facet of Paddy Casey we used to actually enjoy.
Closing track To Feel Alive is easily the best. It starts from a darker place than the EP has ventured up until this point. An incessant bass note sets a sombre tone, a distant crash cymbal building the tension, finally released in a momentous chorus, bringing to a close what is overall a very polished and interesting release.
Now we should delve into the comparisons. We lied above. The first thing that jumps out of this EP is how much McMullan sounds like Ed Sheeran. This should be a compliment, but type-casting a new artist like this can be dangerous, especially given the bottomless supply of male singer-songwriters.
You have artists like James Vincent McMorrow, who is doing something wholly different with his approach, and then you have Ed Sheeran who is doing something that’s been done a million times before, but doing it with such charm and character that it feels brand new.
Ryan McMullan needs to be conscious of committing to whichever direction he chooses, but with both a refreshing blues influence and a Top-40 voice to his name, he should have a good chance down either path.