©2017 Old Bear Records

Ryan Clair – Less Traveled Road

Ryan Clair – Less Traveled Road 2048 2048 Ryan Clair

Ryan Clair

Less Traveled Road

© 2018 Old Bear Records
10 Tracks / 38 Minutes

Ryan Clair’s debut album begins with a steam engine’s whistle and chug that give way to mean blues chords and a gruff, earnest belting of “Move over devil, I’ve got Jesus on my mind”. It’s impactful — a proverbial punch to the gut with a wry smile. It’s like shackles being unclasped, chains breaking free, and fresh air breathing down the necks of those who have had a lifetime of bottled creativity. It’s freedom. Freedom from the constraints of what we have come to expect from Christian music. It’s borne out of the soulful bellows of timeless classics – Howlin’ Wolf, John Fogerty, and Mark Lanegan come  to mind – and is rife with raucous rock n’ roll, backwater blues, desert country, and deep-south Gospel that will get listeners’ heads swayin’ and boots stompin’.

Less Traveled Road was recorded at Old Bear Studios in Batavia, NY, and was produced by Chris Hoisington of Brothers McClurg, both of which are gaining significant traction in the independent Christian music scene. Like previous records that have come out of Old Bear, Less Traveled Road is steeped in nostalgia and thick with atmosphere. It’s the result of true creative vision. The musicianship shines: slide guitars chime along with banjo-style picking on the title track; pedal steels and organs waltz in ‘Great Is The Lord’; electric guitars shimmer alongside an upright bass in ‘I Want Jesus To Walk With Me (The Valley)’. Each note is precise yet unconfined. Each song is allowed to bloom organically without any sense of restraint.

And bloom they do. Ryan Clair’s throaty baritone is full of grit and gusto that are well beyond his years. Born in a small mountain community in southern California and current worship leader of The Journey North Church in Baxter, Minnesota, Clair is an unsuspecting heir to the Gospel revival. But, make no mistake, his interpretations of Charles Wesley’s ‘See How Great A Flame Aspires’ and Psalm 145 (‘Great Is The Lord’) carry a likened weight to Johnny Cash’s Hymns For My Mother. Elsewhere, his echoes are equally formidable: ‘Less Traveled Road’ could find a home on Springsteen’s The Ghost Of Tom Joad; ‘I Want Jesus To Walk With Me (The Valley)’ burns with Memphis blues passion; ‘Hope’ builds to a soulful crescendo that is at once chilling and sobering (“Now I sing with the angels / And my head is lifted high / Well, I found hope in Jesus / He has given me new life”); “Come To The Altar And Pray” finds Clair harmonizing with Chris Hoisington in tender, wrenching fashion; and the album’s catchiest track, ‘Throw Me A Line’, shows Clair’s vulnerability in crying for mercy (“Throw me a line / Because I was at the end of mine”).

Less Traveled Road is a raw, emotive, and redemptive journey through trials, tribulations, hope, and praise. It’s an homage to days of old, when times were simpler, grass was greener, and dust didn’t collect on hymnals basking in stained glass sun. But, it’s also a trailblazer album, one that pushes the aesthetics of modern Christian folk. Ryan Clair invites you aboard as his train howls through the roots of American Gospel landscape. Join him. It would do you well to go along.


Review by Jason Ramsey