Album Reviews

Bill Ryder-Jones – Iechyd Da

(Domino) UK release date: 12 January 2024

His fifth album’s title translates to Good Health, its music distilling the anxieties of lockdown into strength and hope with which to strive for the light

Bill Ryder-Jones - Iechyd Da For most artists, music is more than just a ‘nice to have’. In fact, it’s an absolute necessity. Few embody that statement more than Bill Ryder-Jones, heading into his fifth decade on this planet with an album representing his life to date. That may sound like an overblown statement, but one listen to the music gives you all the background you need.

The Coral’s former guitarist has been making music almost all his life and has been in the spotlight since his teens. Such is his musical pedigree that it’s easy to forget he went solo over 15 years ago. In that time he has released five new albums, a period where, in spite of a number of difficult mental health issues, he found the scope to tour with Arctic Monkeys and produce albums for a number of artists, notably Michael Head’s Dear Scott. Recent interviews have shown Ryder-Jones give a commendably open discourse about his mental health, emphasising the need for constant self-care. Music plays the most important part in this regard, and the route towards Iechyd Da (‘Good Health’) is always there for the listener to take on board, even if the ultimate peace for which the author strives is not yet in reach.

This album shows how the struggle is so real, an everyday battle that the music is helping to win. Pan back from the lyrics, which on occasion have an overwhelming poignancy, and you get a glimpse of the windswept vistas of West Kirby, facing the Irish Sea. It is where Ryder-Jones lives, and where the album was recorded. On top of his own vocal and instrumental writing sits a large string section, beautifully scored and given extra weight by the studio backdrop. The sepia timbres evoke Mercury Rev but travel back further to the The Moody Blues, whose presence can be felt in the rich sonorities of We Don’t Need Anyone.

Ryder-Jones’ voice is a frank and honest instrument. “Oh how I loved you”, he sings with great feeling on A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart Pt. 3, nursing the emotional ache at the heart of his music. With this ache comes strong resolve, a depth reassuring both himself and the listener that they have the strength for the darkest times. The epic scope of This Can’t Go On provides plenty of this, a song mildly reminiscent of The Flaming Lips, while How Beautiful I Am becomes an elegant waltz. Thankfully for Anthony also turns away from inner pain, Ryder-Jones singing “I chose love” as the strings swell and the song gains inner strength.

This is an album borne from difficult times, distilling the worst and most anxiety-inducing aspects of lockdown into musical form. Yet in the process of doing that Ryder-Jones has generated the strength and hope he needs to get from one day to the next. This may be a dark piece of work, but it continually strives for the light, and in a sense Iechyd Da acts as a musical balloon, releasing the worst of its author’s strife through music of grace and stature. Just like a balloon the music soars to ever greater heights, until finally the listener stands transfixed, observing until they can see no more.

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