If his debut album Night Comes Falling is any sort of sign, University of North Texas graduate and rising Texas country artist Mike Ryan will be gaining on the Eli Young Band’s download count.
The Fort Worth artist has all the right stuff: infectious, twangy hooks, that approachable, radio-ready tenor, and a knack for conjuring up heartland appeal, even from his urban front porch. Ryan and his band return to a familiar spot for them — Denton’s Rockin’ Rodeo — for a local CD release.
Ryan said Night Comes Falling, which was released on Tuesday, was a reinvention of an earlier project.
“My first time in the studio, I just wasn’t very comfortable,” he said. “And unfortunately, that showed in the recording. … The tallest task going in [to the studio], what made me the most nervous, was getting down what I was feeling inside.
“Going at it a second time, after the way those songs came out, it was kind of a heartbreaking situation. … I didn’t want to let the chance to try again get away.”
When the artist went into the studio, he had the support of Tony Avezzano, the owner of Hat Tricks in Lewisville, and Wayne Foster. Avezzano and Foster had launched a booking and talent management company, something Ryan said he sees as an extension of the two men’s devotion to live music.
Avezzano brings popular regional and the occasional national touring act into his Lewisville bar and music venue. The stage has attracted a number of bands from Denton’s indie scene.
Ryan became part of that scene when he went to UNT, graduating in 2009. He didn’t pursue a music degree, but he did take music classes out of interest. He started a band and played in friends’ bands while in town. In 2010, Ryan won the Pickin’ Party singer-songwriter competition held by KFWR-FM “The Ranch” (95.9).
Ryan wrote or co-wrote eight of the 11 tracks on Night. He covers Adam Hood and Blu Sanders’ “57 Songs” and “Only All the Time,” written by Stoney LaRue band member Casey Twist.
“That song is quickly becoming one of my favorite songs to sings,” Ryan said. “We recorded it acoustic. With guitar, a hand drum, the fiddle, a shaker and — oh yeah — we did use bass guitar. But I remember the first time I heard Casey sing it. It struck a nerve in my body. I would wake up with it in my head, singing it.”
Night Comes Falling is a chronicle of boy-meets-girl, girl-lies-to-boy and boy-hits-the-highway stories, with a dash of party music (“Baby Blue Jeans”) and the highway hypnosis antidote “57 Songs.” While the album would fit neatly into a popular collection of Red Dirt and Texas country music, Ryan’s vocals and his no-frills performance foster a depth and a soulfulness that are sometimes polished right off a studio recording.
With Ryan, the songs are easy to wrap your head around, and yet the listener can just as easily pick up on the musician’s artful restraint — something often associated with Jamey Johnson and Johnny Cash.
Ryan co-produced the album with Foster and Eric Delegard, the producer and engineer of Denton’s Reeltime Audio, where Brave Combo and Cross Canadian Ragweed have recorded.
Ryan said the studio time for Night was more comfortable, and he shares the credit with the musicians who joined him in recording, as well as Foster and Delegard.
“On this album, what I wanted to do couldn’t have been more accurately represented. Everything that’s gone into this, everything all the musicians have done, it all shows,” Ryan said. “I’m really proud that I made this album, and that it’s what I wanted it to be.”
Ryan said he’s starting to think about his next project.
“They say the first day you release your album is the day you start thinking about the next album,” he said. “For the last six to eight months, I’ve been thinking about Night Comes Falling. I don’t have any themes or any solid ideas, but ask me again in a month, and that will probably have changed.”
They’re with the band: Mike Ryan, vocals, rhythm guitar and lead guitar; Tom Young, lead guitar; Pat Young, bass guitar; and John “Fish” Hunt, drums.
Details: Mike Ryan plays at 9:30 p.m. today at Rockin’ Rodeo, 1009 Ave. C. Cadillac Black and Ryan open for the night’s headliner, Whiskey Myers. Tickets cost $10, available at the door or online at www.rockinrodeodenton.com .