Yukon bluesman brings southern stylings to new album

When Whitehorse musician Ryan McNally returned north from a trip to New Orleans last year, he carried with him a valuable souvenir: his next album.

When Whitehorse musician Ryan McNally returned north from a trip to New Orleans last year, he carried with him a valuable souvenir: his next album.

During his month-long stay in the Big Easy, McNally immersed himself in the city’s culture – most notably the local music scene – and emerged with his first solo album in half a decade.

Writing Steppin’ Down South wasn’t McNally’s goal when arriving in New Orleans, he says. The intent was to take a dedicated chunk of time to work on skills learned in Memphis, Tennessee with one of his musical mentors, blues guitar expert Andy Cohen.

“I took a train to New Orleans, rented a little studio there, and tried to make myself a bit of a schedule to practice a lot of what I’ve learned,” McNally says.

“I wasn’t going down to write a new album or anything necessarily. I didn’t want to put so much pressure (on myself).”

Along with the practice, every day McNally would dive into the vibrant music scene, soaking in the different styles that emanate from the bars and coffee shops that populate the New Orleans avenues. While the city is most famous for its Bourbon Street jazz, McNally was subject to a variety of musical styles, such as blues, zydeco and Cajun.

He found each genre would come with its own rhythm and dance step, something he learned first hand.

“That’s what’s cool about that town… Dancing is such an ingrained part in the community,” he says.

At first, McNally was hesitant to partake, but he was quickly convinced to join in the fun.

“If you look like you’re having a good time listening to the music, somebody’s going to come up and ask you to dance.”

One of the biggest takeaways for the singer/songwriter was how each musician wouldn’t deviate from the basic tenets of their chosen genre. Rather than forming the dance around the music, the music would contour to the dance step, McNally says.

This concept is readily apparent in Steppin’ Down South. While each track is unique in its own right, the vibe is concretely similar across the album without sounding formulaic. The simple two-step dance feel infiltrates each song, getting toes to tap effortlessly.

“That inspired a lot of the tunes that I wrote,” says McNally. “I wanted them to be easily danced to.”

McNally was also inspired by 1920s jug band music, with its lo-fi instruments like washtub basses and washboards. Rhythmic and lively, this style popped up in southern states prior to the Great Depression, particularly amongst African American communities.

And though McNally’s instruments are not as rudimentary and inventive as the original jug bands (save perhaps the washboard), the hand-made feel is certainly still there.

The whole album was recorded “live off the floor,” with the entire band playing together, rather than recording instruments separately. McNally posits that this method leads to a more cohesive feeling.

“I was really much more happy with the energy that was at the live show,” he says. Going down a lifeless checklist of parts to record didn’t suit McNally’s fancy. “I knew that wasn’t going to capture that energy if we did it that way, so that’s why I wanted to do it all live.”

Joining McNally in the studio were Patrick Hamilton on banjo, kick drum and vocals, Kieran Poile on fiddle, Justin Rubenstein on both trombone and trumpet (often in the same song) and Christian Leclerc on tuba.

Just like anything hand-made, perfection wasn’t the desired result. McNally reveals there are some tracks that have slight flaws – flaws that aren’t detrimental in his eyes.

“There’s a couple flubs,” he says. “But you know, the more I listen to it, those are my favourite things.”

Ryan McNally will be holding an album release party at the Old Fire Hall on Saturday, April 2, at 6 and 8:45 p.m. Tickets are $20, available at Dean’s Strings.

Contact Joel Krahn at

joel.krahn@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Maria Metzen off the start line of the Yukon Dog Mushers Association’s sled dog race on Jan. 9. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Mushers race in preparation for FirstMate Babe Southwick

The annual race is set for Feb. 12 and 13.

The Yukon government is making changes to the medical travel system, including doubling the per diem and making destinations for medical services more flexible. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Subsidy for medical travel doubled with more supports coming

The change was recommended in the Putting People First report endorsed by the government

Chloe Sergerie, who was fined $500 under the <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> on Jan. 12, says she made the safest choice available to her when she entered the territory. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Woman fined $500 under CEMA says she made ‘safest decision’ available

Filling out a declaration at the airport was contrary to self-isolation, says accused

The Yukon Department of Education building in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. Advocates are calling on the Department of Education to reverse their redefinition of Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) that led to 138 students losing the program this year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Advocates call redefinition of IEPs “hugely concerning,” call for reversal

At least 138 students were moved off the learning plans this year

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Your Northern regulatory adventure awaits!

“Your Northern adventure awaits!” blared the headline on a recent YESAB assessment… Continue reading

Yukoner Shirley Chua-Tan is taking on the role of vice-chair of the social inclusion working group with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences’ oversight panel and working groups for the autism assessment. (Submitted)
Canadian Academy of Health Sciences names Yukoner to panel

Shirley Chua-Tan is well-known for a number of roles she plays in… Continue reading

The Fish Lake area viewed from the top of Haeckel Hill on Sept. 11, 2018. The Yukon government and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced they are in the beginning stages of a local area planning process for the area. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Local area planning for Fish Lake announced

The Government of Yukon and Kwanlin Dün First Nation (KDFN) announced in… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Fire damage, photographed on Jan. 11, to a downtown apartment building which occurred late in the evening on Jan. 8. Zander Firth, 20, from Inuvik, was charged with the arson and is facing several other charges following his Jan. 12 court appearance. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
More charges for arson suspect

The Inuvik man charged in relation to the fire at Ryder Apartments… Continue reading

The grace period for the new Yukon lobbyist registry has come to an end and those who seek to influence politicians will now need to report their efforts to a public database. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Grace period for new lobbyist registry ends

So far nine lobbyists have registered their activities with politicians in the territory

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21, 2020. Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 to help recover from losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Details released on relief funding for tourism and culture non-profits

Some Yukon tourism and culture non-profit organizations may be eligible to receive… Continue reading

Most Read