A rambling blues singer tends to remain in that state unless jarred out of it by an external force.
So it is with Coming Your Way, the roam-obsessed debut CD by Whitehorse-based blues singer Ryan McNally.
“If I don’t leave, I’m going to lose my mind,” snarls McNally on the album’s title track.
“I’m out the door like a soldier deserts a war,” he sings on Left, Left, Right.
Low down and cruel seems to break tack by ruminating on the cruelty of a woman—but it too quickly concludes, “I got, got, got to move.”
The traveller is always the best songwriter since he has the advantage of being a passive observer.
“If you’re just bouncing around, you’re just a fly on the wall,” said McNally. “If you’re in a place it’s easy to see lots of stories going on around you.”
Above all, the album reveals McNally as a disciple of ragtime, “happy blues.”
The songs on Coming Your Way don’t speak of forlorn heartbreak or hard times—they are warm, folky meditations.
“I’m not a sad person … I don’t write blues like I have the blues,” said McNally.
Taj Mahal’s Fishin’ Blues introduced him to the genre.
In it, Mahal is not falling in love with the wrong woman, carping about grinding poverty or boasting about his superhuman virility—he’s just having a good time fishing.
McNally first heard it when he was eight years old.
Another influence is Guy Davis, injecting the lively acoustic blues with a sound that hearkens back to the genre’s “dance music” roots.
McNally isn’t afraid to rollick.
Skilled fingerpicking pushes McNally’s music along at ragtime tempo.
“You can tap your toe to it,” said McNally.
But McNally’s Whitehorse-based creation, Sasquatch Prom Date is a much more potent tool for filling a dance floor.
The band, founded last summer, has allowed McNally to resurrect his rockabilly past, most notably his mastery of the Buddy Holly “hiccup” vocal style.
Coming Your Way reveals McNally’s growing toolbox of vocal tricks as a bluesman. His full, rounded voice matches evenly with the friendly guitar.
At times, McNally hits the lyrics with lightning-fast rockabilly phrasing. At times, he flirts with a bluesy growl.
Rockabilly is purely musical recreation, says McNally. Creatively, the genre places the artist “in a box.”
“I’m not fucking playing rockabilly for a living,” said McNally.
McNally was raised in Rockburn, Quebec,—a tiny farming town straddling the US border.
“There’s not a lot of progressive stuff to be learning from—not much pushing you,” said McNally.
“You take over your dad’s farm, if he has one, or you get a job at the apple sauce factory,” he said.
“Teenage angst” drove the 16-year-old McNally out of Rockburn and into a shared home in Montreal.
“See you later, you may call me traitor but the day’s all mine,” sings McNally in Left, Left, Right.
Bumming around Montreal, and occasionally making his way to high school, the city was a crash course in life experience for the rural Quebec native.
“This girl she gives me such lovin’ eyes and I see she’s given eyes to my girlfriend’s too,” sings McNally in Gone So Long.
Strapped for cash, Montreal was also a lesson in blues economics.
“That’s where I learned to eat extremely cheaply,” said McNally.
The young musician soon found himself whisked into Montreal’s backstairs psychobilly scene—a fringe incarnation of rockabilly characterized by lyrical references to zombies, vampires and other horror film mainstays.
After two psychobilly drenched years, McNally left Montreal with almost the same fervour as when he pulled out of Rockburn.
The sheen of psychobilly had faded, exposing a superficial world of shallow music and lavish drug use.
“Used to ask my sister for $20 I’d go get high on a real cheap thrill,” he sings in Gone So Long.
“I couldn’t handle that anymore, a lot of the people weren’t real, I wasn’t learning anything about music, I wasn’t learning anything about who I was,” said McNally.
After his psychobilly days, blues became McNally’s music of rebellion.
Gone were the horror movie motifs, and in came skinny ties, Ray-Ban sunglasses and suspenders—the mainstays of McNally’s aberrant blues-inspired Salvation Army style.
With guitar in hand, he caught the next ride out of town.
“I got the whole world in mind, babe, I don’t worry about the time,” he sings in Can’t Stay Long.
By chance, he landed in Whitehorse.
McNally premieres Coming Your Way on Thursday at 9 p.m. at Flipper’s.
A notoriously solo blues singer, he will pair up with the likes of Nadine Landry, Lara Lewis, Wayne Garrett, Nick Mah and Kyle Cashen.
Contact Tristin Hopper at