Newfoundland's Sherry Ryan gets down to the bottom of things. At 36 years of age, the Middle Cove native has mended a few broken romantic promises, become a certified yoga instructor and recently won Newfoundland and Labrador's female artist of the year award for her Bottom Of A Heart album.
"When I went up to receive the awards, they introduced me as the female version of Ron Hynes," says Ryan, over coffee at Halifax's Paper Chase. "It's quite the compliment, as I am a huge fan of Ron's work."
Ryan's vocals spread from a buttery, warm wholesomeness into a harrowing layer of sadness and deep-rooted soul. She wanders a personal path of self-discovery throughout her lyrical repertoire, while remaining true to the essence of a good storyteller. Each song represents another chapter from the chambers of her heart.
"I write about my roots and my home," Ryan says. "'Sweet Land' is a song about the meadow behind my parent's house.
"I grew up on the same piece of land my ancestors who came over from Ireland lived on. I have developed a deep sense of home."
Ryan's 2005 Bottom Of A Heart album was produced and recorded by fellow Newfoundlander Mark Bragg. Ryan calls him a close friend and confidant, as his zany artistic vision gave her the confidence to begin the lengthy uphill climb in the tower of song. With four nominations at 2006's MusicNL Awards, and her one win, she seems to have a leg up.
"We're not totally bombarded with mainstream culture in Newfoundland," says Ryan. "I'm not trying to write pop songs that get on the radio.
"Everyone is incredibly supportive in town. I never expected to get into music moving back to Newfoundland."
Ryan wrote her first song while living in Mississippi a few years ago, and afterwards found herself eastbound once again. But she wasn't the same woman who left her rugged, rocky homeland many moons earlier. She returned stronger, braver and more comfortable in her skin.
"'This Old Boat' is about healing," Ryan explains. "It's about following patterns and getting out of old habits. It's based on whatever you form as a frame of reference."
With the instrumentation of Lucinda Williams, the heart of Gillian Welch and the potential legacy of Hynes at her feet, Ryan is certainly ready to make mountains out of molehills. She describes the close-knit St. John's music community as being "the big fish in a small pond."
-Shannon Webb, Chartattack
That the human voice is a finite commodity is a truism. That is, until you hear a voice so distinctively different that all the rules are changed. Sherry Ryan is a relative unknown — but only because not enough people have caught wind of her sizeable talents. Weaned on country out of Middle Cove, Newfoundland, Sherry’s musical personality reflects that wondrous blend of Newfoundland influences that kick any kitchen party into overdrive through the wee hours of the morning. The overriding direction on this first release is deep country, her voice powered by the haunting spectre of Patsy Cline and Kitty Wells. Closer in timbre to a darker, huskier version of Margo Timmins, Ryan’s vocals soar above predominantly sombre material interspersed with hints of rockabilly ("Best Kiss Ever”), bluegrass ("Simple Things”) and country ("You Broke My Heart”). "One of Those Amazing Nights” is a slow, disarming number that deserves to be on the radio — falling into that awkward alt-country category, but a good representation of Ryan’s best foot forward. A gifted songwriter, these 14 tracks are her own, and clearly not one to be tied down stylistically, her future looks bright. Her voice is so good — so distinct — it’s absolutely unforgettable. If this is the bottom of her heart, I can only look forward to the top.
-Eric Thom, Exclaim