Fellow Spotify users and addicts alike are surely familiar with the experience of the black rabbit hole: scrolling through suggestions and playlists, created by the official Spotify account or by randos, looking for new music.
Somehow this app always hooks me with the strangest artists and albums. As of now, I’m hooked on Ryan Scott’s “A Freak Grows in Brooklyn.”
Scott is, really and truly, a nobody. He’s got one album, no artist description. A Google search yields very few hits. The only interesting one is a very short 2019 article by Leo Sidran for third-story.com, which has a similar reaction to Scott that I did.
“The world is full of talented people you’ve never heard of,” Sidran begins. He goes on to recount an interview with our man Ryan Scott, a Nor-Cal kid who moved to New York ASAP so he could get into the music scene.
He’s got two decades of guitar playing under his belt and the dude’s only 36.
He became a jazz musician (after some not-so-humble beginnings: picked up guitar at 10 and played his first gig at 14) and waited for his big break. But it never came. Years of working odd music jobs (a sideman, session cat, songwriter for hire, wedding singer and “jazzy jazz jazz” player, Sidran reveals) earned rent money but not much else.
Finally, Scott took the plunge and recorded a solo record.
Recorded on an 8-track cassette in his Brooklyn studio at home, written and mixed by the man himself, it was released on Bandcamp at the tail end of January in 2019.
Scott has done everything for this album: vocals, guitars, bass, drums and keys as well as all the other dirty work that goes into making a record.
I will admit that it was first the album art that caught my attention, then the title — likely a nod to Betty Smith’s fabulous novel. But the music held it.
“A Freak Grows in Brooklyn” is a delight. It’s funky, jazzy and above all it’s fresh while somehow being classic. Scott is wicked on his guitar, bluesy and soulful and undeniably talented. Tinged with influences that will have the cultured music lover falling — dare I say geeking — for, it’s perfect for those of us nostalgic for sweet summertime laziness and ‘70s haziness.
It’s an easy-breezy listen. The tracks are initially all similar enough that they’re tough to distinguish, but overall that’s not problematic. Each song grooves into the next and they’re each just as catchy as the last.
“Love U Like the Sun in June” has the most Spotify streams on Scott’s sparse artist page. It’s the lead song on the album and staunchly holds its own. A heavy, driving bassline and electric riffs keep a constant groove throughout the track’s entirety, paired with a croon reminiscent of Hendrix in the chorus: “I’m gonna love you when the party’s over / I’m gonna love you like the sun in June / I’m gonna love you like I can no other / And you found me not a minute too soon.”
Sharing a cool, driving bassline is “Wheels,” which could be blasted out of a boldly colored Volkswagen hippie bus or used in an episode of the “That ‘70s Show.”
This song instills a wanderlust specifically for a road trip with an unknown but solidly worthwhile destination. “New Summer Days” is the same way, same sense of nostalgia.
There’s just something about artists with a background in jazz. No matter how psychedelic their rock, it’s just got a certain je ne sais quoi – perhaps their sense of tempo – that other songwriters and arrangers are often missing.
Blues-rock guitar lineage, New York’s jazz tradition, New Orleans R&B, and Brazilian psychedelia are rattled off as influences in a stage flyer posted on Rockwood Music Hall’s website, and it’s pretty clear that Scott draws from all of these wells of music heritage. But there’s something about his guitar work that just sticks out as raw talent.
My favorite off the album might be “Say Goodbye to the Blues.” I have a certain fondness for closing tracks, so take this pick with a grain of salt, but I also have a fondness for this specific intersection of doo-wop and psychedelic. Scott shreds here, highlighting his precision and sheer talent as a musician.
The tracks all have a similar vibe so “Blues” isn’t really a standout. But it’s a solid finish to an album that’s solid from the get-go. And, if you’re like me and easily susceptible to earworms, the song ends and loops back to “Love U like the Sun in June,” which really is the standout.
If you’re looking for something fresh and funky, give a listen to “A Freak Grows in Brooklyn.” If you like Cream or Led Zeppelin: listen to it. You might appreciate a similar sound and fall in love with this album.
I have a lot of soft spots, and a big one is for little-known musicians. So if that’s a shared interest, you might want to add Ryan Scott to your repertoire of quirky secret Spotify finds. The black rabbit hole has yielded many an odd discovery, and this one has been particularly enjoyable.