Ryan Cook
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Ryan Cook

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | Established. Jan 01, 2008 | SELF | AFM

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | SELF | AFM
Established on Jan, 2008
Solo Americana Country

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(A fresh country voice breathing new life into old-time country)

Country music has always been alive and well on Canada’s East Coast
yet Ryan Cook represents a new breed of country music practitioner. His last album, Hot Times, set the stage nicely – displaying a reverence for the roots of the genre but also taking some time to inject a little youthful fun and real personality into the mix.

Peaks & Valleys represents huge growth and an incredible jump forward for the 29-year old Cook since his 2008 debut. Truth be told, Cook left the dairy farm behind for metal bands until the country sounds of George Jones and Don Williams worked their magic on him. As good as Hot Times was for a first-timer, Peaks & Valleys jumps out of the gates like an eager quarter-horse. Cook’s voice is huge – not in a Big Hat country way – but a rich, lovely tone with all the burrs worn off. Far from cloning old-time country, Cook has an eye on his own audience and wears his sense of humour on his sleeve. That’s why, together with the strong balladry and hook-rich, country pop songs you’ll hear, he buries a few pearls like “The O.C.D. Blues” and a tale of Zombies in “Dead Like Me”. Not your pappy’s country.

At the same time, these 11 sturdy originals get supercharged by some of the cream of Nashville: including Lloyd Green (pedal steel), Andy Leftwich (fiddle/mandolin), Guthrie Trapp (guitars) and multiple Grammy award winner Alison Brown (banjo). A complement of local heroes add the finishing touches, which partially explains why elements of jazz and roots
seep into his maturing sound. Highlights include the heart-bending
ballad, “If I Know Nothing Else”, driven by Joe Venali’s piano, reinforced by
Bruce Bouton’s pedal steel with a valuable assist by a simpatico string
section. Brown’s banjo kick-starts a reworked jewel in “Gaspereau Valley” –another definitive moment –while Green’s pedal steel, Letwich’s fiddle and Jim Hoke’s harmonica transform the song into a major showpiece for Cook’s animated, wide-ranging vocal. “Sun” mines more of a country-pop
approach –its deep-hook chorus and lush backup vocal from Laura Merrimen, together with Bouton’s delicious pedal steel has a positive, upbeat feel which proves infectious.

From cowboy songs and country swing with a dash of Bakersfield,
Cook’s feet seem firmly planted in real life. As a result, you’ll find
far more peaks than valleys here – and the view looks truly promising.

– Eric Thom
- Maverick Magazine


Ryan Cook has a singular and polished sound that crosses genres, and makes him one of the more interesting singer songwriters in the East Coast community. He comes from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and was raised on a large dairy farm, which certainly gives him some actual country roots, something most people who work in the current country climate don't actually have. But he really didn't want to be, or start out to be a country performer. He actually started out doing punk rock and heavy metal. Like many musicians who progress though, he soon discovered songwriting, and with it an appreciation for all sorts of sounds.

The current Ryan Cook does get put into the country side of things, although he has lots of influences going on. You can hear plenty of roots music in there, with banjo and accordian and mandolin, bluegrass sounds when the fiddle and fast picking is added in. His writing includes the classic Canadian folk tradition, the cool places and people you'll meet and see around these parts. He also can fit in a little acoustic jazz to the sound.

Now, this is quite the flip-flop from punk and metal, and Cook says it happened when he worked in a nursing home. He used to perform for the residents, and they would ask him to play songs by artists such as Hank Williams and Tom T. Hall. He started paying attention, and found his own voice in this older-styled country. That led him to start an acoustic-based group, and put out his first album Hot Times in 2008. He got attention as a country act, and even won a Music Nova Scotia award for Bluegrass recording of the year.

Country did indeed pick him up, and he got radio play and touring dates. Arriving in Nashville in 2009, he made some strong local connections and ended up recording his new album there. It's called Peaks And Valleys, and has just been released. This isn't one of those take-the-money-and-run Nashville studio productions. Often secondary studios and over-seasoned session men make quick bucks by allowing just about anybody to book time and do quick and easy productions just to have the words Recorded In Nashville on their disc, like it somehow makes it better. In fact, most of those released are hack work. Here Ryan Cook really is surrounded by some of the best the city has to offer, including the fabulous banjo player Alison Brown, whose forays into jazz and world music have revolutionized the instrument. But the real important thing here is Cook's songs. He's a strong lyricist, and he combines that with lots of interesting music ideas, not least of which is that touch of happy jazz licks, even an old-fashioned clarinet in there. Word-wise, Cook avoids the usual cliches and writes about places and people you'll feel a connection to. There's a good one that name-checks the Gaspereau Valley region of Nova Scotia, for instance. Just another of the peaks and valleys of the area, and life, that Cook puts in his material. - Bob Mersereau


Back in 2008 Ryan Cook delivered one of the ‘surprise’ albums of the year with his Hot Times album. It rightfully earned a spot in CMN’s Top Dozen Album Picks of the year…now, with his new Peaks & Valleys album, he repeats the ‘surprise’ aspect with what could easily be the very best album of 2010. This time around the Yarmouth, Nova Scotia artist has taken his collection of original tunes to Nashville studios, and brought in some of Music City’s finest for support…the end result is nothing short of spectacular.

Ryan Cook has also changed gears with the new material, moving away from the more hardcore traditional country of his Hot Times album to a cool mix of cabaret country with touches of country jazz and country swing. Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Merle Haggard and others have made that musical mixture work to perfection in the past….and Ryan Cook achieves the same mood here. Plus, he delivers the songs with a crusty vocal style that keeps it contemporary enough that country radio can easily fit it into their programming.

The album opens with the country cabaret offering Now That I Found You, and then moves into a country jazz/swing effort in Wild Side of Town. The next selection, The Streets, is filled with some tasty clarinet touches, quite effective, and still countrified enough to make it fit perfectly with the overall theme of the album. After a softer ballad in I Know Nothing Else, we get the O.C.D. Blues, which is given a modern day Jimmie Rogers blue yodel feel…again a very effective touch.

The album then features an updated version of Ryan Cook’s Gaspereau Valley song, reprised from his Hot Times album; and segues into the ‘cowboy’ flavoured Navina, mixing touches of Sons Of The Pioneers with some Marty Robbins, complete with a yodeling part. The next selection is the album’s lead single, Sun, a pop/country item that has a Keith Urban vocal touch to it.

My Permanent Heartache is next and it may well be the highlight moment of the album, Ryan Cook has put together a tongue-in-cheek cheatin’ song that carries a dysfunctional family lifestyle message. It’s a jazz/country item filled with neat fiddle riffs. The Boy I Never Knew How To Be is a funky flavoured item; and then the album closes with yet another standout tune in Dead Like Me, a dark, quirky song by Ryan Cook, juxtaposing a treasured guitar with a friend…(I think).

Peaks & Valleys was co-produced by Ryan Cook in Nashville studios utilizing the likes of Lloyd Green (steel guitar), Bruce Bouton (steel guitar), Andy Leftwich (fiddle and mandolin), and Alison Brown (banjo). It all makes for a terrific album that every fan of ‘good’ music should get to hear. - Country Music News- Larry Delaney


CD Pick of the Week

Ryan Cook
PEAKS & VALLEYS
(independent)

Yarmouth country crooner Ryan Cook sounds a bit slicker on his new CD Peaks & Valleys, but recording in Nashville suits his voice and songs here, maintaining a fine balance between classic and contemporary, even throwing in a bit of jazz shuffle on Wild Side of Town.
He can still burn a torch with real sincerity on a ballad like If I know Nothing Else, but shows more character than most Nashville artist on fun tunes like The O.C.D Blues and a season-appropriate zombie love story, Dead Like Me.
Cook launches Peaks & Valleys with shows tonight at the Company House in Halifax, on Friday at Th'YARC in Yarmouth, Shelburne's Osprey Arts Centre on Saturday and Sackville's Acadia Hall on Sunday.

-Stephen Cooke - Chronicle Herald


Here’s the thing. Country – no, not alt-country or roots... actually country – is a genre that really doesn’t get much attention from the ole music blogosphere. If you aren’t a rebel dressed in black or a pot smoking tax evader, well, you might toil in obscurity unless you get some CMT type love. Thankfully, with people like Corb Lund making a splash in the National scene with original sounds, terrific artists like Ryan Cook are not only being tolerated but celebrated.

South Shore's Ryan Cook & Sunny Acres put out Hot Times in 2008, and the country sounds they play are as good as I’ve heard in forever. Filled with heartache and down on your luck tales, you could easily slip Hot Times into an old juke box in a local bar and as the glasses kept emptying to forget the pain, most patrons would be none the wiser. Like any classic country crooner, he's proud of the place he grew up and lays his hat and tends to prefer the classic subject matter of love, heartaches and hangovers, so when they bust into a traditional sounding gem like Lovin' or a classic about the perils of pretty girls (Pretty Sure), you instantly realize that Cook understands what made the greats great.

But the more you listen to Cook and his band, the more you realize how comfortable they are forming their own sound. He stays true to who he is - I mean, when's the last time you heard someone drop Canso in a song - and it's that confidence helps him experiment with different styles without losing the feel of the record. When they break up the misery and pedal steel on Sharpest Knife with some heavy electric guitar, the track becomes more than just another dance floor swayer. It makes the track explode and stand out. How often do you picture a country singer playing in a coffee shop and winning over the inattentive crowd? Well, if you walked in off the street and heard Cook and Mandy Atkinson creating the warmth that resonates from the beautiful Children Smiled, I have no doubt you'd stay for the whole set.

Growing up we all say things like, “I’ll never be like my Dad”, without noticing that over time we've developed have the same mannerisms. No matter how much we fight it, we are who we are. With Cook, I’m not sure he ever set out to be a country artist – and his punk rawking/heavy metal past seems to prove the point – but over time it just happened and those subtle glimpses of his musical past give the music an authenticity you just can’t manufacture. You just feel like everything about Cook (and his band) is real and that's why a song like Gaspereau Valley hits with the jangle of guitar, banjo and a chorus as catchy as the common cold, they can win over anyone... even those people who say "I like all music, well, except country."

Ryan Cook & Sunny Acres will be up in NL this weekend for the East Coast Music Awards, and if all things are equal, they will walk home with Country Recording of the Year. - Herohill Music Blog


This one landed in the Inbox overnight and turned my morning around so quickly that I just had to share. Ryan Cook is a young singer-songwriter from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia whose 2008 record, Hot Times, won a Music Nova Scotia Country Bluegrass Recording of the Year award and was named the eighth Best Canadian Country Album of 2008 by Country Music News. Still, I’m guessing you never heard it.

During 2009’s CMA Music Festival, Ryan caught the attention of John Walker from WSM Radio, who helped secure the talents of some Nashville heavy-hitters (including Lloyd Green, Andy Leftwich, Guthrie Trapp, Bruce Bouton and multiple Grammy-award winner Alison Brown) to lend a hand to Cook’s next record, Peaks & Valleys. Wild Side Of Town is the first single from that release. The lighthearted, but all-too-familiar story of drunken debauchery provides a nice pu pu platter of the country & western, roots, and jazz brew that comprises his polished, but still earnest sound. Reminds me a little of Ridley Bent, Dale Watson or Robbie Fulks, and the song is just too good to ignore even if MOKB doesn’t condone this sort of behavior. - My Old Kentucky Blog


Yarmouth musician Ryan Cook slid into the Canadian country scene with his polished, traditional LP Hot Times, a record that dropped the alt and focused on pure country melodies and stories. He wasn’t plaid shirts and grizzly beards. Ryan and his band simply paid homage to the country greats with a record that was fresh, professional and somehow hovered in a purgatory between classic jukebox songs you drop your last quarter to hear and something new that stops you in your tracks.

It would have been easy for Cook to settle into his well received sound, package 10 or 12 tracks as Hot Times II and have heard nary a complaint (and seeing a re-recorded “Gaspereau Valley” on the track list might indicate he did), but Peaks & Valleys finds Cook pushing the comfort levels of his song writing and his fan base. There’s no doubt he’s still a country purist, but Peaks & Valleys moves seamlessly through traditional country, folk and well executed jazz. Cook even tries his hat at more standard AM radio ready pop tracks and as a testament to his skill, all are handled with a deft touch and executed successfully.

I realize that talking about execution makes the effort seem stale or robotic, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Opening with as solid a country tune as you will hear – “Now That I’ve Found You” – Cook launches into a good-ole-boys tale, but “Wild Side Of Town” is an uptempo jazz number that balances that country feel with bouncy guitar and brushed drums. Over the remaining nine tracks, Cook tries his hat at more standard folk (“Navina’) and even radio ready country pop (if “If I Know Nothing Else” was covered by some Canadian Idol tween, it would be an instant hit and “Sun” seems ready to be a programming fixture for countless stations). He doesn’t retire the ten-gallon hat or bolo tie, but Cook certainly takes some chances to push his songs to a bigger audience and really goes for broke.

It’s kind of funny because I’m sure Ryan spent years defending his love of pure country, and now that it’s becoming cool, his creativity is pushing him away from the norm again. You won’t find many – or any artists – trying this interesting fusion of sounds and still staying true to their roots and while Peaks & Valleys is an accurate title when you consider the high and lows Ryan has experienced on tour and the breathtaking scenery he’s seen, musically it falls short on accuracy. Cook should have simply called this LP Peaks, because you won’t find many low notes. - Herohill Music Blog


"At every East Coast Music Awards and Conference, you get to discover someone you've never heard of who may be destined to be next year's major breakout act. For me, this year's most promising singer/songwriter was Nova Scotia's Ryan Cook.

A dedicated devotee of no-nonsense Country with a capital 'C', Ryan Cook took the stage with a complete band, a dry sense of humour and a cowboy hat full of attitude. Delivering songs with titles like Butts and Bottles, and plugging his recently released album Sunny Acres, the flannel-shirt wearing singeractually managed to encourage several couples to get up and waltz to his sublimely hurtin' compositions.

And while Cook's band was all over the place in the sartorial department--his bass player sported a business suit while the lead guitarist looked ready to drive an 18-wheeler--the group played with extraordinary ensemble precision, giving Cook's hooky, straightforward tunes an extra edge.

With this performance, Ryan Cook would seem to be on his way up. Next year, he could very well be sharing the stage with established talents such as Jill Barber, David Myles, Amelia Curran and maybe even Lennie Gallant."



- Aliant.net


Hailing from Nova Scotia, freewheeling country artist Ryan Cook takes on a jazzy swagger for his sophomore release. Recorded at Nashville, TN's Quad studio and featuring a cast of seasoned local musicians, assembled with the help of co-producer Sean Walker, Peaks and Valleys shimmers on every level while maintaining Cook's signature punchy edge. Clever lyrics, such as in "Dead Like Me," a torch song about loving a corpse still beautiful despite a bullet to the head, and "The O.C.D. Blues" make for compelling songs rich in visual imagery. Peaks and Valleys has its quiet moments, but they pale in comparison to his jazzed-up, finger-snapping tracks. Opener "Now That I Found You" and the equally sweet "If I Know Nothing Else" are glossy pop confections liable to make the ladies swoon. Ryan Cook is a smooth but still very genuine entertainer who knows how to cover his bases and reach out to a varying audience by appealing to our most basic, and shared, desires: to love and laugh.
(Independent) - Nereida Fernandes


Cook and friends (including John Campbelljohn on C6th pedal steel and Jon Landry, from Folds of Policy, on electric guitars) show themselves to be sure hands on honky-tonk numbers (“How Drunk I Get”), brooders (“...Between the Buried and Me”) and old-timey waltzes (the closer “Little Doves”). “Gaspereau Valley” shows best how this son of South Shore dairy farmers sings like a cross between Dwight Yoakam and the woefully forgotten Mike McDonald greats, Jr. Gone Wild. With cover art by Yo Rodeo! this is a complete package.
(Sean Flinn)
- The Coast


Ryan Cook’s Hot Times deserves the same respect you’d give a fresh fox in the henhouse: all hell’s about to break loose but you have to admire him for his work. On only his third release, Cook’s young age is far from apparent; he’s a cool customer with little regard for adhering to trends, which makes him dangerous. His confidence (without the cockiness that often goes with it) rings true across ten spirited tracks, all originals, revealing writing and arranging talent that parallels his solid chops and formidable strengths as a front-man. Hot Times is honest country with one foot in traditional turf, the other touting his natural singer-songwriter side without the need of an oversized hat or faux cowpokery. That Cook sounds so authentic is because he wants to, having cut his molars in metal camps first — this is clearly who he is and it shows. Sure, the themes are all headache, heartache and heartland yet they’re delivered with East coast honesty for instant authenticity. Add in smart flourishes of pedal steel, harmonica, fiddle, banjo and a few well-placed duets (Mandy Atkinson!) and you’ve got some Hot Times of your own ahead. Spin the banjo-led “Gaspereau Valley” or the heart-wrencher with Atkinson on “Children Smiled” for a taste. Or turn up the twang with the radio-ready “Can’t Win for Trying” or sample the warm wit of “Sharpest Knife” (featuring some fall-down electric guitar). Then go warn the hens. (No Scene)

-Eric Thom - Exclaim! Magazine


Ryan Cook is a Dartmouth, Nova Scotia-based singer/songwriter making his full-length ‘country’ album debut with Hot Times, a ten song collection of all original tunes he has written. Cook has been working the East Coast music scene for some time…it’s surprising that this marks his first venture onto the national scene with his recorded music. The guy is a ‘winner’…and his ‘Dwight Yoakam – meets George Fox’ approach to his music makes for a truly enjoyable listen. We’re told he comes from a punk rock/heavy metal musical background, which is hard to fathom after listening to this ‘country, honky tonk’ offering; but that may explain why we’ve never heard from him before this.

Hot Times opens with a honky tonk shuffle tune in Pretty Sure; and right-off you get pulled along into wanting to hear more of the same from Ryan Cook, and he does not disappoint, following that solid opener with a really neat country love song in Lovin’, performed as a duet with Mandy Atkinson. This one could be a radio hit…on those country radio stations that take time to treat their listeners to some ‘real country’ music.

There are several more standouts here. How Drunk I Get is another honky tonk flavored tune about boozin’ and gambling (I told you this was ‘real’ country music), complete with a twangy guitar effect; and Can’t Win For Trying is a similar item, this time given a Dwight Yoakam feel in the delivery.

Gaspereau Valley is a neat blue-collar story about the simple things in life, and it is made even more effective by some tasty pedal steel and fiddle work. Ryan Cook gets a little soulful on tunes like Sharpest Knife and Little Doves, but still keeps within his countrified boundaries. Darlin Don’t Leave Me is a rockabilly shuffle that works to perfection. The only mis-step on the album comes in …Between the Buried And Me, a dark, brooding type of song, which seems a little out of place with the rest of the songs performed here.

Ryan Cook is supported on Hot Times by some talented musicians, most unfamiliar to us until now; and some solid production work by Scott Ferguson (The Rankin Family). Hot Times definitely lives up to its title.

- Larry Delaney
Country Music News Vol.29- No.1
April/May 2008
- Country Music News


Discography

Still working on that hot first release.

Photos

Bio

Ryan Cook, a hardcore troubadour and traveling songwriter, grew up in a large dairy-farming family on the southwestern tip of Nova Scotia, Canada. Running fast from the expected cliches of cowboy culture, he began singing for punk rock and death metal bands as a teenager, helping to shape a popular south shore music scene along with artists like Brian Borcherdt (Holy F*ck) and Paul Murphy (Wintersleep).

Blending the nostalgia of classic country music with modern satire, Ryan has developed a progressive style of country that is both traditional and innovative. Branching as far left as country jazz and as far right as three-quarter time bluegrass, there are few elements of the genre he hasn't touched since arriving on the scene in 2007.

In 2008, Ryan entered the studio and released his debut LP, Hot Times. The record was awarded Country Album of the Year at the Nova Scotia Music Awards, nominated at the East Coast Music Awards and named 8th best Canadian Country Album of 2008 by Country Music News. In 2009, Ryan was invited to Nashville, TN to record his sophomore album with Music City Roots producer, John Walker. The result, Peaks and Valleys, featured a few of Nashville's more prolific players, past and present, including Lloyd Green, Andy Leftwich, and multiple Grammy-winning artist Alison Brown. The album was hailed by critics as one of the most refreshing Country/Western albums of 2010 and took home Country and Bluegrass Album of the Year from Music Nova Scotia while receiving top honours with Country Music News as the 2010 Album of the Year in Canada.

In 2013, Ryan Cook is back with his third release, Wrestling with Demons, which lands like a flying elbow smash in the face of mainstream music. Armed with east coast allies, J.P Cormier and John Campbelljohn, along with the last two living members of Hank Snow's band, Kayton Roberts and Roger Carroll, Ryan produces a hi-fi record that is refreshing and real. With all the hype of a classic wrestling showdown, Wrestling with Demons is a battle royale of amped-up acoustic guitars, swinging mandolin chops and hot steel.

Having performed over 700 shows since 2007, Cook has shared the stage with Dwight Yoakam, Rosanne Cash, Sammy Kershaw, Steve Poltz, Brandi Carlile, and Joel Plaskett. In 2011, Ryan toured with Travis Tritt as the opening act on his 2011 acoustic tour in Canada. Ryan has showcased in Nashville, TN at both Music City Roots and the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree and performed over 30 theatre shows as Hank Williams in the Maynard Collins play, The Show He Never Gave

Band Members