Matthew Ryan 

and Jon Dee Graham with Jeff Byrd
Sam’s Saloon, 1640 E. Prospect St.
Saturday, May 10, 10 p.m., $12, 21+

That gravel in Matthew Ryan’s voice — it’s earned.

The Irish punk from suburban Philly graduated from Doc Martens to arena-sized folk rock years ago. His is a poignant, penetrating storytelling that has been sharpened to a fine point.

“It’s kind of like being born into a language,” Ryan says of his penchant for finding truth in humanity. “You don’t question it. I’ve always written this way, based on the things I love.”

Those things conspired to make Ryan’s 11th release, Matthew Ryan vs. The Silver State, his most autobiographical creation yet. Anguished spirits haunt its facile music, in Rust Belt imagery that rivals Springsteen’s finest. And yet Ryan considers it his most hopeful work yet, because despite the ennui of his subjects, they battle on. He chose to write about hope after addressing his brother’s prison sentence and a close friend’s death to cancer on 2006’s From a Late Night High Rise.

“When you go through those things, you’ve got two choices,” Ryan says. “You can either become a broken cynic, or in the immortal words of Dylan Thomas, you can rail against the dying of the light. We’re all going to experience these things, unless we live alone and excommunicate ourselves from intimacy and friendships and family. Ultimately they should put you in a position to make your life more meaningful.”

It’s a hard-earned philosophy from a man who’s seen the worst the music industry has to offer. MRVSS marks only the second time in his career he’s working with the same label that released his previous record. Despite the ups and downs, which have taken him from major labels to indies and even DIY collections, Ryan has persevered. That adolescence of refineries and row houses set to the soundtrack of U2’s The Unforgettable Fire still burn in his mind.

“When I write a song, it’s when I feel most alive,” Ryan says. “That’s almost like a compulsion — the desire to state your case and to hopefully say something that’s meaningful in the greater context of what it means to be human.

“I have a firm belief that eventually I’ll win. Hopefully I recognize that moment.”

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