Ryan Michael Galloway’s All Dressed Up returns us to the underrated 1970s musical milieu, a period when folk- and country-inflected rock stars dug deep into their own emotional wellspring to create songs that traveled across the ages. That said, the Washington, D.C., native doesn’t allow himself to become beholden to the legacies of the Eagles, James Taylor, Seals and Crofts, Crosby Stills and Nash and Kenny Loggins, even as he references them.
Take the opening “Hands on the Rock,” a peaceful, easy-feeling track that holds far deeper complexities beneath its amiable cadence. We find Galloway exploring this ruminative lyric about growing past our youthful misunderstanding of life, sounding something like early Loggins sitting in with Don Henley and Co. The track actually charts a rough-hewn, deeply connective course for All Dressed Up. Along the way, Galloway proves as adept at sharing quiet confidences as he is tough little Americana numbers. While “A Ghost from Ruins” finds Galloway moving in closer for a series of whispered entreaties to a love that never knew him, the subsequent “Arrow to the Sun” quickly catches a shambling groove. Galloway then offers the gentle reminiscences of “When the Rain Comes Over Texas,” and the sun-inflected, James Taylor-inspired “Blue Sky Joy.”
Sprinkled throughout are these bright flashes of musical inspiration, as Galloway explores outward from what might have become a see-sawing template of up- and down-tempo country rock tracks – and far afield of the polyester-era’s singer-songwriter aesthetic. He dives headlong, for instance, into a rustic rockabilly on “Horseshoe Road Inn,” this snarky late-night romp, and then stirs in some fizzy Texas swing on “My Dog Thinks I Am” – a funny paean to self-actualization. Galloway adds a grease-popping blues attitude to “Lawd Ha’ Mercy,” made complete with a stomping assist from drummer Chad Ireland, a barrelhouse-rattling piano signature from C. Aaron Moore, a searching tenor turn from Aaron Yuhas – and some church background vocals courtesy of Michael “The Mudcat” Reames, Wayne “Gator” Folse, and others.
“Catch Up With Me” returns All Dressed Up to its centerpoint, though, as Galloway searches his heart for the strength to fulfill a relationship’s potential. “Heaven In Your Sighs” strips away all of the musical artifice, leaving only Galloway and his lonesome guitar signature. “Ride Out,” with these smart echoes of psychedelia and flinty protest, is only two voices away from sounding like a lost Stephen Stills classic for CSN. Finally, the piano-driven “Kingdom Power Glory” is presented in two completely different formats, one that places Galloway’s voice front and center, and the other featuring guest vocalist Candace Stowers. Galloway’s version is confidential and direct, while Stowers’ take simply bursts with heart-breaking emotion. In both, a boiling electric guitar solo opens the door for a soaring conclusion.
For all of its quietude, those moments of outsized emotion tend to resonate the longest. In fact, All Dressed Up’s most completely realized numbers include “Stand There,” “Her Eyes” and “The Night Before Tomorrow” – a trio of its most upbeat tracks. “Stand There” takes a more pop-focused, Seals and Crofts-ish tack, even as Galloway offers a winking turn of phrase in the chorus. (Ken Miller’s ilky smooth turn on the sax also hearkens back to the ’70s). “Her Eyes,” meanwhile, is powered forward by a frank and revealing theme and this scorching guitar lick that recalls Lindsey Buckingham at his most incisive. Finally, there’s “The Night Before Tomorrow,” a propulsive number that begins in inky blackness before emerging into a bright hopefulness.
In the end, All Dressed Up is the classic round peg in a square-holed world, something both reminiscent of an earlier time but yet gloriously difficult to pin down – and all the better for it.