Musical styles are fickle things that come and go like the tide. But the sound on Saints & Strangers, the new album by Boise musician Ryan Bayne—the brother of Boise filmmaker Gregory Bayne—dodges vogue to focus on the sort of classic sound that endures the endless cycling of sub-genres by focusing on bang over flash and substance over style.
Bayne's album is basic roots-rock with clear blues influences. The most-obvious comparisons are the late-career American Recordings albums of Johnny Cash, with simply strummed songs wading deep into melancholy with rumbling baritone vocals and flourishes of electric piano, grungy electric guitar and harmonica. But there are also shades of Nick Cave, The Band and Tom Waits.
With such lords of lament as influences, it's easy to imagine Bayne's music ringing from the jukebox of a lonely rural bar as closing time draws near. Especially on the song "Rose's Dream," an electric piano ballad about the title character's dream to leave her small town for the bright lights of the big city—a dream, which like so many, got deferred.
Another track with the same feel is "Leaving You," which has a slow pace and gritty vocals that are a dead-ringer for a Waits ballad.
There are also overtones of alt-country on tracks like "The Time It Would Take," a lonely lament with a rumbling fuzztone lead and a beat like the labored breathing that comes with a breaking heart.
But the most-striking song on the album is its second track, "Not My Father's Son," which was written for Gregory's documentary Jens Pulver: Driven. The lyrics are about the life of Pulver, a mixed martial arts fighter who used MMA to overcome his troubled history. The song immediately stands apart from the rest of the album with its gripping lyrics and austere instrumentation.
As a whole, Bayne isn't breaking new ground with Saints & Strangers, but he isn't aiming to. The album is clean and classic, with good songs and little pretension. It sounds like bourbon, a rich flavor that will endure whatever fads come and go with its classic taste and smoky sting.
If you're looking for an album to throw in the deck on a lonely nighttime drive into the mountains, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better local offering.