Handsome and charming, the English-born Christian Ryland Angel first sang as a choirboy. From the start, his interests in pop and classical music were inseparable. He eventually moved to Paris to undertake serious musical study, when he discovered the countertenor extension of his natural tenor voice. Eventually Angel would sing with many of the world's finest Baroque ensembles, including Les Arts Florissants, led by William Christie, as well as the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and the Ensemble of Early Music of New York. He has been acclaimed for his performances at New York City Opera, English National Opera, Carnegie Hall, Opera National de Paris and many more, covering every important work in the countertenor repertoire. As a student in Paris, Ryland Angel began a personal creative odyssey that has resulted in the audacious leap of faith that spawned his remarkable
Think "countertenor" and certain images come to mind: white gloves, brass balustrades and all the dusty conventions of classical refinement. Ryland Angel knows all about it, having sung on many of the world's great concert stages. But there's another side to Ryland: busking in the Paris metro, riding a Greyhound bus across the Texas plains, trading quips with Paul McCartney at Abbey Road Studios and, above all, writing exquisite pop songs. With the release of his self-titled Manhattan Records debut, Ryland permanently reconfigures the classical crossover genre while establishing himself as an
important new artist.
As a singer/songwriter, Ryland Angel fits easily on the continuum from James Taylor to James Blunt. But his affinity for renaissance and Baroque music gives him a unique edge. Co-written by Ryland and Ed Bennet, the new CD is the culmination of a long creative process. "It was a confluence of different ideas," he says. "The sound began to crystallize in my head
two years ago."
That sound includes polyphonic harmonies, acoustic and electronic flourishes and, above all, Ryland's extraordinary vocals. He sings tenor and countertenor (a highly trained falsetto) with a purity that springs directly from ancient musical traditions. Ryland takes full advantage of those traditions on the CD, yet his songs are informed by the pop stylists he admires, from Coldplay to the Beatles.
The CD opens with the tender "Absalom," drawn from the famous Bible story. "It's about a father's love for his son, and not having a chance to say goodbye." says Ryland. "The words are sad, but the music is uplifting." It's followed by "Broken Heart," a clarion of layered vocal harmonies co-written with Ryland's brother,
lyricist Andrew Angel.
One of the album's most striking songs is "Find a Way to You," which blends big ballad drama with lucid charm. If any one track could persuade the last skeptic that Ryland has his pop music chops down cold, it's this one. "It's about searching for love," says Ryland of the tune, "and overcoming obstacles that stand in the
way of happiness."
"Your Kiss" was inspired by "Song of Songs," and is, like that famous Bible book, a celebration of physical love, while in "My Dream," Ryland again layers choral harmonies over an elegant melody. Having grown up the son of a theologian, Ryland has an affinity for ancient liturgies. Songs like "Agnus Dei" and "Ave Maria" are sung in Latin, conveying a sense of solemn devotion. On "Jesu Redemptor" Ryland is joined by singers Jollie Greenleaf and Dominique Surh adding immeasurable texture and beauty. The same is true with his take on "The Water is Wide," done with almost hymn-like gentleness.
But despite any liturgical echoes, Ryland says the new CD is first and foremost a pop album. "I write about ordinary human beings with weaknesses and desires," he notes. "There are lots of different influences: medieval, Gregorian, Baroque and contemporary. I conceived a classical crossover with these earlier sounds mixed with the singer/songwriter style."
Born and raised in Bristol, England, Ryland first sang as a chorister at Bristol Cathedral. His father served as Dean at Trinity College, while his mother had trained as an opera singer." Though grounded in classical music, Ryland loved pop, and even saved up to buy a Korg M1 keyboard. He later trained as a lawyer, supporting himself singing jingles and playing piano in clubs. "I only knew about seven tunes," he says. "I had fun improvising, but when the requests came pouring in I had to bow out." Soon enough he realized law wasn't for him: he was born to make music.
Ryland moved to Paris to undertake a serious study of music. There he met Kentucky native Bryce Johnson who later became his Austin-based writing partner. Eventually Ryland began singing with many prestigious ensembles, among them Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, the Ensemble of Early Music of New York and Les Arts Florissants. He's performed at the New York City Opera, the English National Opera, Carnegie Hall, the Opera National de Paris and many more, covering
every important work in the
Eventually Ryland moved to New York (he divides his time now between Paris and Manhattan). Though his classical career was in full swing, he longed to develop his pop ideas. Once he met songwriter Ed Bennett, he found a partner who understood his vision. The two collaborated intensely. Ryland also headed to Texas to work with lyricist Johnson, often jotting down musical ideas while riding the bus to Austin. Once a few demos were cut, it was easy to persuade Manhattan Records sign him.
Ryland's team, which included producer/orchestrator Craig Leon, gathered at Abbey Road Studios in London to record much of the album. At one point in the recording, Ryland went off in search of a favorite microphone only to find Sir Paul McCartney had accidentally made off with it earlier. The two had a good laugh over it.
He still keeps a busy classical concert schedule, and was in fact nominated for a classical Grammy last year for his work with the Tiffany Consort. But Ryland plans on devoting much more time to his pop music endeavors, including tours, cross-promotions and TV specials.
Sure, there's risk straying from the comforts of the classical world he knows for something new and different. But for Ryland Angel, that's precisely the appeal. "What I try to do," he says, "is create simple beautiful melodies that hold a message of hope. And I hope this has meaning
As seductive and haunting as it is luminous and pure, the soaring full flavored voice of Ryland Angel brings a new dimension to music on his self-titled debut album for Manhattan Records. Angel scored his first international successes in the rarefied world of Baroque music, where he was hailed as one of the finest countertenors of his generation. On his debut solo recording, he strikes out in a bold and original direction redefining the classical crossover sound in eleven unforgettable contemporary tracks he has created that reach heights above and beyond Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban and Il Divo
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