Ryan VanDordrecht’s style is loose, but still serious. His new album Beast of Love has an attitude about it that almost defies description. “Beast of Love” seems almost contradictory, since humans generally connect love to feelings of softness, meekness, and sweetness. But VanDordrecht’s hard love defines the album, at times subtle but often bringing a real rock edge.
The opener “Hard Lover” does an excellent job of setting the tone for the rest of the album. His repetitive refrain as the “hard lover” establishes his context for the “beast of love” theme throughout. The combination of layered heavy drums and full band sound show that this is not just a guy and his guitar plinking away at a sweet love song. This is real attitude.
“Great American Life” has a Dylan-esque narrative story to it. What’s great is that something about Ryan’s vocals even kind of sound like Dylan, too. The backing “ooohs” on the chorus give it a real 1970s feel. The harmonica makes it all come together. This is the kind of track that someone could slip into a Springsteen mix and most people would hardly notice. That’s pretty decent company.
The ballad, “I ain’t coming home tonight” has a tone-setting organ and a nice driving 70s rock rhythm. The full-chord electric guitars and the smoke-filled lead vocal make for a great atmosphere. It’s a song about knowing that you’re leaving, looking at the difficulty of the situation, but knowing it’s for the best. It would be at home on albums from classic southern rockers like 38 Special or the Allman Brothers Band. It’s that kind of jam.
“You Got a Hold on Me” has a different vibe to it. It still preserves the “new spin on an old sound” but in a little different way. Again the organ and guitars fill the sound, but it’s the bluesy back beat that really makes the track. There’s something about the harmonizing vocals that make them feel more early 90s than 70s, but that’s definitely no insult around here. The lyrics are about the throes of passion, when it doesn’t matter what someone does she’s just got you all the way. Thematically, even, it fits with the classic kinds of rock music.
“Stay Between the Lines” might be my favorite on the album. It’s a little more stripped down, allowing VanDordrecht’s great voice to shine through. The instrumentation is simpler, with an acoustic guitar in lead and chimes (maybe a glockenspiel?) in the background. The lyrics are clear, narrative, and intriguing. And, spoiler alert, it’s kind of a tragic song. “Some people tell you that love is all you need… tell that to this girl who’s walking out on me. She left her whiskey bottle with the wedding ring.” I don’t care who ya are… that’s good songwriting right there. I could dig a whole album written with this style, honestly.
“Travelin’ On” and “One More Cigarette” have a similar style that are both a sort of singer songwriter rock style. They don’t really fit into any of the classic categories, but tell stories about human relationships in meaningful ways. “One More Cigarette” in particular has an excellent introspective element. “I look in the mirror and what do I see? One more honest feeling staring back at me.” It’s not “emotional” in the traditional sense, but it’s certainly a story about a man asking hard questions and trying to figure things out. That vulnerability makes for good lyrical content that could definitely fill more tracks in future work from him.
The final track is called “Last One to Know.” It’s another hard breakup song, full of more of that early 90s angst. It deals with the raw emotions of breakup. While it might not be a party song, it’s definitely a track that a lot of people can relate to due to its expressive elements. My favorite part of the writing is the half step key change on the lyric “moving on.” It shows that the song itself is more than a simple and formulaic rock ballad. I’d, again, love to hear more of that complexity in future work from Ryan.
All told this is a good album that shows a great trajectory for a career in music. VanDordrecht’s style is sure to be a hit with a lot of people on the national touring scene. His music seems perfect for a particular demographic with strong influences in both classic rock and early 90s rock. That combination could serve him well in this industry. Give him a spin if you like the classic rock artists I mentioned earlier or even Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam. He preserves a bit of what they were up to when they were dominating the air waves twenty years ago.