By Jackie Morris

catch_the_sunset_-_barb_rymanListening to Catch the Sunset, the sixth album of Minnesota singer-songwriter, Barb Ryman, I can’t help thinking she really has caught it….in all the ephemeral beauty, the simultaneous sadness and radiance, of every sunset since the dawn of time. This is one profoundly beautiful and beautifully profound CD.

Catch the Sunset is primarily a collection of story songs in the folk tradition, and Barb Ryman is a consummate story-teller. Drawing inspiration from real life (often her own), her songs are laced with detail but never boring; never too long, and never overly dramatic – a quality that allows room for the listener to call up his or her own personal experiences. She sings them all in a high, pure voice that reminds me of the clarity I used to love in early Joan Baez recordings.

From touching songs such as Soldier’s Daughter (about the loss of her father, a navy pilot, when she was four years old)...to incisive political songs like Nursery Rhymes, there is a stunning sincerity in her voice; an unflinching truthfulness and brave vulnerability that immediately command attention.

Ryman accompanies herself with a cascading finger-style guitar (and ukulele on one track). And she, in turn, is accompanied by a dozen excellent musicians over the course of a dozen songs and two bonus tracks. Most outstanding among these musicians are her back-up vocalists, Prudence Johnson and Diana Grasselli, whose harmonies couldn’t get any tighter if they were synthesized! And, as in albums past, Peter Ostroushko’s virtuoso violin and mandolin (often heard on “A Prairie Home Companion”) add a touch of magic.

Co-produced by Marc Anderson and Barb Ryman, Catch the Sunset provides a rich variety of acoustic textures, both thematically and instrumentally. Ryman is not afraid of painful subjects, such as the recent loss of her mother, and the lonely “confession” of a touring songwriter. But pain never rules the day…and there is always a hopeful, healing quality to her songs. Better still, she has a dry sense of humor and an appreciation of life’s ironic twists that provide a delightful counterpoint to her more serious side.

The instrumentation reflects this diversity. In addition to usual upright bass and electric bass…electric guitar, 12-string guitar and acoustic guitar…drums, percussion, and keyboard, there is the unexpected tuba, cello, harp and mouth whistling. Somehow – perhaps because of the understated quality of each song – the tracks all flow together seamlessly. This album achieves that rare balance between a varied and homogenous listening experience.

barb_rymanBarb Ryman is definitely one-of-a-kind…but in such a straightforward, understated way that the entire impact of her work sort of sneaks up on you. Of the 13 original songs in Catch the Sunset (one of the bonus tracks is an alternative mix of Nursery Rhymes), I found the majority to be in the “forever memorable” category! These included the title track, with its multiple metaphors of the sunset…followed by Take, a sad reflection on our nation’s greed…and the inspiring true story of Scary Mari, an artist who underwent such profound rejection and outrageous humiliation that, ironically, the art world finally took notice of her. Then there is Soldier’s Daughter, tenderly written from her deceased father’s point of view, and Arms Across the Sea, about trying to get home before her mother’s passing. I think many people who have lost older parents will be able to relate (tearfully, I might add) to this song.

Finally, there is Ryman’s “hit” on the Folk Charts this summer, and one of my personal favorites on this album….or any album, for that matter! It is Nursery Rhymes, an absolutely brilliant, multi-faceted parable condemning corporate/government greed and corruption using the same timeless nursery rhymes that were used hundreds of years ago to expose the same sins. It is witty and incisive, and the song has tremendous energy….in both its original acoustic version and its alternative, electrified, more rhythmic version. I could listen to this alternative mix all day long! It could - I think, SHOULD - be the banner song for the Occupy Wall Street movement.

A New York transplant to the tiny town of Carpinteria, CA, Jackie is a freelance writer by profession and a singer-songwriter by passion. Her newly-released third album of original Folk/Americana songs was among Top Albums on the Folk Music Radio Airplay Charts for July and August, 2011. Jackie is also an active member in such acoustic music communities as SummerSongs, SongMakers, and FARWest Folk Alliance.