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Ryan Calhoun
Everything That I’m Not 
Independent Release (10.14.2008)

Many a serious music lover who was around during the early and middle portion of the 1990s will recall the heated feud between the East Coast and West Coast-based hip hop contingents that drug on for the better portion of that decade. While it’s certainly doubtful whether such a heated rivalry ever existed among those in the acoustic guitar-toting community, pop performer Ryan Calhoun has certainly visited both sides of the proverbial equation in his quest for artistic expression. Originally from Southern California, Calhoun relocated to New York City to try his hand at the music scene there before eventually packing his bags and returning home to the LA area. Stints at the Hotel Café – often referred to as ground zero for the Hollywood singer/songwriter scene – led to Calhoun’s teaming with producer Greg Laswell to record his debut album, What Are We Doing Here?, a well-received effort which helped earn the native Californian a Los Angeles Music Award for the best new male artist of 2007. 

Following in the footsteps of everyone from Lifehouse and the Gin Blossoms to Matchbox 20, Calhoun opens his sophomore outing with “Sometimes Sorry Is the Wrong Thing to Say,” a shimmering, adult alternative pop/rock gem sure to bring a smile to the faces of older Gen-X’ers and younger Baby Boomers alike. The follow-on tracks, “Slipping Away” and “Everything,” are every bit as bracing; thanks to their lively guitar work, towering melody lines and superbly tight harmonies. Adding fuel to the fire of his imposing pop credentials, Calhoun spins just as convincing a web around his slower material. “Undone” draws the listener in with its lulling, almost nursery rhyme-like, rhythm and melody. And the pleasantly understated “Right About Now” (Right about now I’m dying/ Right about now, I’m trying/ Right about now is not soon enough) is carried along ably by Calhoun’s clever use of lyrical parallelism.

 Listening to “Now” and “What I Want,” (I've got nothing left/ I've given my best/ And I know I can't do this), one might be tempted to write off Calhoun as either self-absorbed or defeatist. Making such a cut-and-dried categorization, though, sells his estimable insight and breadth unfairly short. “Undone” (Now I see/ So much more than me), for example, finds the talented Californian deliberately looking beyond himself for answers to his interpersonal turmoil. Likewise, “Who We Are” (I keep looking up/ So I can hold on), rather than being down-hearted or fatalistic, is perhaps most correctly labeled as cautiously hopeful. And the undergirding temperament of entries such as “Draining” – where Calhoun pluckily tells a romantic interest to “move on” – and “Sometimes Sorry Is the Wrong Thing To Say” – in which he steadfastly refuses to accept the blame for a failed relationship – is anything but acquiescent.
While the first two thirds of the record captures Calhoun at the veritable apex of his game, its last three songs, “Hope,” “Break Me Down” and “What I Want,” are an entirely different matter. While it’s true that Calhoun truly hits his stride on faster material like “Slipping” and “Sorry,” the ultimate fault with the final tracks lies not so much in their comparative tempo (all of them are ballads), but rather in Calhoun’s meandering, less than enthusiastic delivery. Of course, going eight for eleven is hardly a trivial accomplishment, and by doing so Calhoun veritably leaps over the lion’s share of his fellow artists. And, pragmatically speaking, the closing cuts would hardly do his reputation irreparable harm were they to pop up on the local adult contemporary or Top 40 radio station. Indeed, even with the weaker entries taken into account, Calhoun’s emotive voice, perceptive, well-penned lyrics and mastery of hook and melody still set up Everything That I’m Not as one of the more impressive pop-based indie releases of 2008.
Bert Gangl


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