Unlikely headlines part 1: "Former Coral guitarist turns classical musician, writes musical adaptation of cult novel."
However, that's exactly the case here. Bill Ryder Jones, guitarist and indeed all-round musician with The Coral during arguably their most potent period as a creative force, has done just that. Having initially retired from touring in 2005 due to stress-related fatigue before leaving The Coral three years later, Ryder Jones has embarked on something of a 360-degree musical rotation from his previous role in a rock and roll band. While 'If.' may not come as a surprise to anyone that's heard his other solo recording, 2009's 'A Leave Taking Soundtrack EP', which pulled together four compositions from the score of a short Laurence Easeman film, this long player not only depicts Ryder Jones as an artist capable of crossing all boundaries that stand before him but also suggests his long term future as a musician and arranger may lie in such projects.
Written as a musical adaptation of Italo Calvino's 1979 novel 'If On A Winter's Night A Traveller', itself a complex narrative depicting the adventures of a person's attempts at reading a book, 'If.' mixes subtlety with harsh polemic without ever crossing the line into schmaltzy sentimentalism. Indeed, where the book attempts to combine several stories within its overall passage, Ryder Jones has managed to achieve a similar trajectory throughout the ten pieces that make up 'If.'
While the three-and-a-half introductory piece that mirrors the title of the project mixes softly intoned piano with a voluptuous string arrangement in the final third, it's the more experimental likes of 'Leaning (Star Of Sweden)' and 'Le Grand Desordre' that set 'If.' apart from pretty much any other record you're likely to have heard in 2011. It is simplistic in arrangement, the former using a piano to illustrate its dark austerity where the latter's poignant acoustic guitar mirrors Ryder Jones' fragile vocal for lucid precision.
The grandiose 'Enlace' and pulsating finale 'Some Absolute End (The End)' only add to the gripping climax of the book itself, while sounding not too dissimilar to the post rock stylings of A Silver Mt. Zion or a stripped down variant of Explosions In The Sky. At times, 'If.' doesn't make for the easiest of listens but, when heard in the context of the novel that inspired its existence, Ryder Jones compositions gradually make sense.
Overall, a million miles away from the jaunty pop hits of yesteryear like 'Dreaming Of You' and 'Pass It On' that Ryder Jones was renowned for in his previous incarnation. Nevertheless, 'If.' is a ridiculously ambitious statement of intent that acts as a salacious gateway to its creator's future ventures.
'Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing)' arrives in April.
The two awards have made for a great 72nd birthday present for the country music icon.