Album review: Allan Rayman’s Roadhouse 01 is R&B beyond the dull tropes

Allan Rayman, Roadhouse 01

Allan Rayman doesn’t do interviews. In today’s climate of social media and over-sharing, he puts forth that novel idea of letting the music speak for itself. On his sophomore album, Roundhouse 01 (released last week), he succeeds thanks to the sheer strength of his song-craft and the intensity of the emotion he conveys. Rayman draws you in with a heartbeat. One seductive rasp and smack of a snare drum, and you are immersed in his dark, conflicted world.

On “December,” he tells of a lover with whom he is smitten. But it is the summer of their romance and he notes with pessimism: “Commitments are just future broken hearts.” “Hollywood My Way” begins with what sounds like a movie clip of someone getting murdered, but really it is the death of love itself. He reflects the inevitable: “I know it’s not forever/ I love her while I can.”

His amore is all-consuming and ultimately his undoing. He believes “love is death.” Its only consolation is that he siphons it into his music. “Oh I like the bad things too/ I like them ’cause they’re always true/ Something you can’t help but do,” he coos in a breathy Michael Jackson-staccato to a syncopated drum beat on “Repeat.” This highlight also features Canadian Chance The Rapper collaborator Jessie Reyez.

On “Shelby Moves,” Rayman teases: “Interview. Interview. Interview please/ They wanna know about.” Then proceeds to tell us: “I’m a man with the courage of his convictions I swear/ I never went to bed with a girl named Ruby I swear/ I never played pool with a guy named Fats I swear.” The latter are the sort of revelations that gossip magazines thrive on but if you don’t know Ruby who? Or Fats? It means nothing.

He does reveal that he is originally from the town of Lost Springs. In 2005 the town of Lost Springs, Wyoming listed its Population: one. In 2010: four. Rayman himself now resides somewhere in Toronto. This feeds so nicely into his enigma that you have to wonder if he really is from Lost Springs at all. Rayman knows how to get under your skin and feed the paranoia.

To make this album, Rayman retreated to the backwoods and didn’t see any friends for months. It casts the image of a driven artist who is at the service of his muse at all costs. Perhaps he’s made a Faustian deal with the devil. It is a theme that surfaces several times. On “Sweetheart,” one of the most beautiful tracks on the album, he sings: “I’ll have my love/ They’ll have my sound.” He even has a song titled “Faust Road.”

There is a palpable struggle between his private happiness with a lover, or the entanglements that come with success, and life playing out publicly. Midway through the terse collection of songs, he has the good sense to lighten things with a ragtime interlude. “Jim’s Story” is a jaunty ditty that will make you smile with his gleeful delivery of a classic, “ragged” rhythm, bouncing with cartoonish outbursts of the trumpet. But it is short lived and ends abruptly with: “Until true love finds him/ And kills him,” like a punchline.

Roadhouse 01 is a thing of beauty with many standouts, from the urgency of “13” to the Michael Jackson-esque “Head Over Heels” and the uplifting synth strands of “God Is A Woman.” The moment you hear Rayman’s modern, soulful croon on “Wolf,” the haunting opening track, you sit up and pay attention. Delivered sparsely in spoken-word over twinkling piano keys, he conjures contorted violins, a music-box melody and the occasional note off-key. A sonic frisson belies his state of mind and informs the whole album.

Occupying an overcrowded space that often peddles dull and hollow R&B tropes, Rayman emerges ahead of the pack, despite never stepping out of the digital shadows. He is a lone wolf hell bent on his convictions and maintaining purity in his craft.

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