Iechyd Da

Iechyd Da

In April 2023, Bill Ryder-Jones was playing the second of two acoustic shows in the compact theater space at East London’s Hoxton Hall. Halfway through, he asked the crowd of a couple of hundred if they had any requests. Song titles were volleyed back at him but no one bid for “Daniel,” despite it being one of his most popular songs. From 2016’s West Kirby County Primary album, it describes how Ryder-Jones and his family became unmoored by the loss of his older brother, aged just nine, during a family holiday in 1991. Tonight in that intimate room, it felt too invasive to ask for, perhaps, too searing a flame of grief and trauma to stand so close to. Nevertheless, Ryder-Jones played “Daniel” later in the show, his audience listening in damp-eyed stillness. As the song finished and applause erupted, Ryder-Jones gently raised his fist in salute and said thank you. Alongside the new songs he played that night, that moment offered a clue to where the former The Coral guitarist is on this fifth solo album, released nine months later. He’s still contending with difficult times and regrets, creating beautiful music in the gloaming, but he’s also pulling out moments of strength, gratitude, and hope. As a solo artist, Ryder-Jones has proved satisfyingly restless, ricocheting from orchestral instrumentals (2011’s If…) and wistful bedroom folk (A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart, 2013) to the unkempt alt-rock of West Kirby… and the glacially paced sorrow of 2018’s Yawn. He’s been softly dismissive of those final two, despite their excellence, stating that he’s always been striving to match A Bad Wind…. Iechyd Da achieves this and more by returning to that album’s delicacy and melody and decorating them with magnetic layers of sound—including children’s choirs, disco samples, and fellow Scouse singer-songwriter Michael Head reading from Ulysses. The songs were written in lockdown, a difficult period for anyone—not least those like Ryder-Jones who live with depression and anxiety. It was also a time in his life when a relatively new relationship grew and then withered, and a prescribed course of Valium slipped into dependency. So there’s understandable vulnerability and self-doubt here. “While I’m too much, I’ll never be enough for you, I know,” he concedes on opener “I Know That It’s Like This (Baby).” Despair reaches its depths on lead single “This Can’t Go On.” Its blend of disoriented fragility and night-sky expanse recalls Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs as Ryder-Jones walks his coastal town of West Kirby after dark, listening to Echo & The Bunnymen and yearning for something more, something different, something everyday—kids, companionship, a driving license. In these intimate songs, it’s the little things—biographical details, nuggets of sound—that pull you in. “I keep the good times closer than the bad/Running your baths before American Dad,” he tells a departed lover on “Christinha.” A sample of Brazilian tropicália pioneer Gal Costa’s “Baby” floats through “I Know That It’s Like This (Baby)” like a ghost from better times. And it’s flooring to hear Ryder-Jones’ brittle whisper crumble to a sigh at the final syllable of “Oh, how I loved you” on “A Bad Wind Blows in My Heart Pt. 3.” The ambivalence of “There’s something great about life/But there’s something not quite right” (“It’s Today Again”) doesn’t suggest a man who’s found his peace but there’s also stoic acceptance of some things passed. “’Cause I don’t think I could’ve given any more/A sun just sank into some sea” he tells that absent lover on “Christinha.” One of the most difficult memories revisited is on “Thankfully for Anthony,” which recalls the day a bad dose of tranquilizers unfastened Ryder-Jones to the point that the song opens with “I’m thinking this might just be it/I’ve waited a lifetime for this.” Anthony is the friend who drives him to hospital to get checked out, and here in his oldest pal’s car—in his care—clarity and purpose arrives. “I felt loved/I’m still lost/But I know love/And I know loss/But I chose love,” sings Ryder-Jones amid a heart-bursting orchestral swell. When the music fades out, you can hear a faint voice from the studio say, “Thought that was pretty good,” before the album ends with “Nos Da.” Named after the Welsh for “goodnight,” it’s 90 seconds of soothing piano and strings—a soft landing, a gently raised salute.

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