There are all sorts of musical stories in Tauranga; Shirley Ryder's must be amongst the more unusual.
Not long ago Shirley, a singer/songwriter who had released one poppy album with The Shirleybyrds, was diagnosed with cancer - she was not expected to get through.
Fortunately, she is still with us and the most obvious side-effect of her illness is that it sparked a creative explosion in Shirley. Since regaining her health she has been astoundingly busy, writing dozens of songs, forming several bands, recording in various styles, and interviewing musicians for her YouTube channel, The Shirley Ryder Show. A new series is due at the end of this month. Oh, and she's currently writing not one but two books...
Now she has a new album, her fourth, due to for release next week.
Close to Midnight will be launched on Saturday 20 February at The Jam Factory. Doors open 6.30pm, $15 entry. The night will feature Shirley's new band The Faith, comprising Steve Laffan (drums), Steve Kopae (guitar), Glen Fitzjohn (synth, guitar) and Lara Wilson from local band Dead Simple on bass. Support act will be Andrew McLennan, famous from eighties bands Pop Mechanix and Coconut Rough, who also did stints with the Swingers, Blam Blam Blam and the Whizz Kids.
The eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed that Shirley's latest band is called The Faith. That's not a random name. For this is, as the CD's back cover mission statement reveals, “A concept album following the biblical theme from Genesis to Revelation.” That's a lot to get through; it's quite a big book.
There are many ways people approach Christian lyrics. Outliers include the rather obnoxious fear-and-brimstone preaching of Bob Dylan's Slow Train Coming album, more common is the devotional approach - “Thank you God we love you and you're wonderful in every way” - with or without a side-order of biblical stories.
I've long thought it bizarre that the genre should have a separate category at the NZ Music Awards. It's called Best Worship Artist. The category, unlike all others, includes any musical style whatsoever as long as the lyrics are about god being wonderful. That's the sole option. God being simply okay doesn't cut it, only worship is allowed.
No problem with that on Close To Midnight. It has both the worship songs and the stories. Thank You Jesus and May The Lord Forgive Me fall into the former category while there are whistlestops through tales of Job, Moses, the prodigal son, David and Noah, not actually repeating the legends but using their morals and lessons as references for Shirley's particular journey of faith.
And in fairness to that mission statement, the first song, Lord Our Creator, obviously references Genesis while the closer, It Didn't Have To End This Way, would appear to be set during the Rapture so that would be Revelation. Oddest lyrically, but possibly the most successful as a straight rock song, is Laodicea, which, obscurely, appears based on John the Revelator's letter chastising the Laodicean church in around 100 AD.
But let's leave the words aside because the music, produced by Shane Davies at Soundtree in Whakamarama is about as good as I've yet to hear from his studio. The musicians do a fine job. Steve Laffan played all of the drums, some guitars and a little bass after the original bass player, The Shirleybyrds' David Thompson, moved overseas during the project. Shane also played some bass and does absolutely sterling work on lead guitar throughout the album while the variety of guitar and other sounds adds interest.
Musically it stretches from eighties rock to reggae, with bluesy and electronic touches thrown in, Shirley providing effective keyboards throughout. She has also obviously not lost her knack of writing a catchy tune – the songs are well-structured with memorable melodies. And her vocal approach has loosened up. While her singing on the Shirleybyrds albums is relatively straight, here she embraces girlish falsetto, whispered lines and a more theatrical delivery, reminiscent perhaps of Kate Bush.
Close To Midnight is on Spotify and digital platforms from February 20. CDs are also available.