For those who like their pigeonholes neat and tidy, Jimmy Ryan is an unsettling proposition. He plays mandolin with the old-timey pluck of a bluegrass breakdown, but he also plays it with the ferocity of rock guitarist. What else would you expect of a left-handed rebel who began his career by playing both in a bluegrass combo (Pine Island) and a punk band (Decentz)?
That melding of styles made Ryan a pioneer of the so-called “alt-country” scene in the late ’80s when he founded and fronted the bluegrass-tinged rock band The Blood Oranges. And the same eclectic approach makes him one of the most dynamic singer-songwriters on the rich Boston Americana scene today.
His divergent, redefining styles are also reflected in his latest record, “Readville,” the fifth solo recording of his 30-plus-year career. From the chiming rock of “What If I Fall,” to the hillbilly-soul ballad “Every Word,” Ryan’s unique style resonates throughout.
Named after the neighborhood where the upstate New York native now makes his home, a suburban Boston area once called Low Plains, “Readville” has a spartan feel befitting the industrial history of its namesake. Featuring just three musicians, and recorded in the home studio of one of the players, it also marks the fiddling debut of Ryan.
It is remarkable that Ryan could even find the time to craft the eight new originals, let alone tackle a new instrument, given that he still tours the world and is in high demand as a player locally. If there’s a big gig in Boston — be it Session Americana, Catie Curtis, Girls Guns and Glory, Sarah Borges, the Amy Black Band or any other number of Americana projects — chances are the lefty mandolinist will be onboard. Ryan also has fronted a popular side project, Hayride!, with legendary guitarist Duke Levine, veteran roots music drummer Billy Beard and late bassist virtuoso Andrew Mazzone, to whom “Readville” is dedicated.