Movin’ on with a rekindled love

Justin Brake
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Sherry Ryan is back with her anticipated but unpredictable new album ‘Sister of Mine’

Sherry Ryan is back with a new recording, “Sister of Mine.” She will launch the recording Saturday with a show at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

Ain’t nothin’ can stop Sherry Ryan. When the 40-year-old St. John’s songwriter injured her shoulder a few years ago, she had just taken home her second MusicNL “Female Artist of the Year” award for her sophomore album, “Wonderful Cures.”

But the setback, diagnosed as “frozen shoulder” (the inflammation of the shoulder capsule), would be with her for a while, she learned, which meant having to put the guitar down indefinitely.

So, in her downtime, the yoga teacher and Middle Cove native revisited childhood memories of having a piano in the house, taking lessons, rehearsing most days and loving it, she says.

Now in the living room of her downtown home, which she shares with husband and local musician Joe Belly, that old piano has been given new life.

I’m seated at her kitchen table and Ryan’s boiling the kettle so we can sit down over a cup of Tetley and talk about her new record, “Sister of Mine,” which features her first piano composition and a handful of tunes reincarnated as piano performances from their original guitar forms.

And in keeping with past efforts, including her 2005 debut “Bottom of a Heart,” this one no less warrants ears, if only for the sound and feel of that rekindled ivory love.

But it’s not just Ryan’s new instrumentation that makes for an intoxicating listen. It’s also the album’s eclectic substance and its multi-stop escape into the past, present and future.

Getting comfortable on the keys again, then “learning how to integrate the type of songs I write on the guitar into the piano,” borrowed from her creative capacity, Ryan admits, sipping her tea.

So, while revisiting her past talent, she also dug out some other stuff from the vault — a handful of songs.

Of the 11 “Sister of Mine” tracks, only five were written since “Miracle Cures.”

The rest, she says, “I’ve been arranging and rewriting ... for however long they’ve been going around in my head. They wouldn’t go away.”

The album peaks twice with elegant sombre, first with “All Night Train,” and again with “Movin’ On,” the first song Ryan says she ever wrote, some 14 years ago.

It was born at a time she was working as an occupational therapist in St. John’s, but was unsettled in life. So she headed for Mississippi to work in a nursing home.

“I remember, where I was living, sitting at the dining room table and starting to write a song. And I didn’t have an intention to write a song. It just started to come out, and I had no idea I was going to be a songwriter,” Ryan recalls.

That’s how it all began. And over the next 14 years she penned many more, six of which she couldn’t have imagined would be recorded for a third record.

Her time in Mississippi was short-lived, and Ryan soon found herself in Halifax, where she stayed for six years, and where music became a true possibility.

“I started to write all my songs and made my first album there and started a band there, even though I came back (to St. John’s) to release it,” she says. “I became a yoga teacher there, and lots of good things happened because I left here, but not in Mississippi,” she laughs.

“I started getting invited to these awesome jam parties and it was my real connection to music in Halifax,” she recalls, explaining how she met “Sister of Mine” producer Phil Seddore, who also produced Amelia Curran’s “War Brides.”

“Phil would always be there and would keep one instrument in his hand all night, and the energy was always so good. Whether it was an accordion or a bass, he always seemed to be the centre of the music. I just thought he was an amazing musician and had great energy.”

Seddore handles the bulk of the instrumentation on Ryan’s new album, except the piano, of course.

From opening country track “Blue Ridge Mountains” to the bluesy “Back Step Blues” to the vaudevillian “Burn My Journal,” “Sister of Mine” spans a lifetime of diverse musical appreciation.

“I think learning the songs that you like is input for future output of songs,” Ryan explains. “I don’t know where the evolution of style comes from — it’s just what comes out, really.”

“The Narrows,” a solemn number of delicate arrangements, sums up Ryan’s approach to songwriting and composing.

“A lot of my songs are sad,” she says, smiling. “I wrote that one day when I was walking, and it was a rough time — something was really bothering me. So I have the opportunity to put this energy into creation, and I think that’s what’s so therapeutic about it.”

“It’s just a place to put this energy that’s really getting overbearing, and then hopefully people like it. So you create something nice out of it instead of taking your energy that can be negative sometimes and do negative things with it. You’re doing a positive thing with a negative emotion.”

Ryan and her band The Enablers — Mark Bragg, Dave Rowe, Chris Donnelly, Bryan Power, John Clarke and, coming from Halifax for the show, Seddore — will celebrate the release of “Sister of Mine” Saturday at the LSPU Hall.

“I guess in the past four years, for some reason, it was just time to look at stuff that I couldn’t forget about,” Ryan says of the songs which made their way onto the record.

“So really there’s nothing left in the well, but I’m happy with that — I’m ready to work on some new material, and I’ve already star-

ted it.

“It’s still an ongoing movement, on to a brighter place.”

Geographic location: Mississippi, Middle Cove, Halifax Blue Ridge

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  • Paddy Barry
    December 07, 2011 - 18:24

    Sherry Ryan is brilliant. Amazingly, she can craft different grooves from Irish tunes she learned growing up in Middle Cove, together with Mississippi, Halifax, St. John's and those ever beckoning Blue RIdge Mountains, and make it a style all her own. I met her in 2003. We played some gigs together; the first one in Halifax with Mark Bragg backing us up on piano. She introduced me to the most important music I know - GIllian Welch, Dar Williams, Lucinda Williams, and she reconnected me with Graham Parsons and Steve Earle and many more; all of whom have stayed with me. She has probably done more to popularize that kind of music in Newfoundland & Labrador than any other musician; especially the music of GIllian Welch. Congratulations, Sherry. I can't wait to hear the new album.

    • Niall Jackson
      December 08, 2011 - 17:12

      Been coming to St. Johns every summer for the last 4 years with my girlfriend Jayne who is from St. Johns. We always make sure to get to see Sherry perform a gig and had some good times in peoples kitchen listening to her jam with friends. Sherry has an amazing raw energy about her and fantastic lyrics. Cant wait to get back this summer and add her new album to my collection. Niall (Liverpool UK)

  • Rick Cave
    December 07, 2011 - 14:08

    Congrats Sherry - well deserved - good on you.