There are artists with sincere reverence for the legends who came before them, and then there’s Ryan Beaver. His respect and admiration for music icons like David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, The Eagles, Merle Haggard, Tom Petty and George Strait run deep. At Nashville’s first Whiskey Jam following Bowie’s passing, he was the night’s only performer to take a shot at covering “Heroes.” Unfortunately for Haggard and Beaver, both were blessed growing up with bad lungs (Haggard had respiratory problems while Beaver suffered from asthma and allergy attacks).
“My brother hated me because he had to do the lawn,” Beaver told me over coffee at Nashville’s Frothy Monkey the morning Haggard passed.
Growing up in Emory, Texas, Beaver even shopped for instruments at the same music store where Don Henley bought his first drum set.
“You start to see why people in those small towns go on to do something different,” Beaver said. “You know how they spend their time because there’s nothing going on out there. But creativity sparks out of your circumstances. Looking back, that was a big reason why I was going through records.”
Hints of Beaver’s musical heroes can be heard all over his introspective third album Rx, a collection that medicates with raw emotion starting with the powerful lead single, “Dark.”
Then within the first 90 seconds of track two, the dramatic country power ballad “Rum and Roses,” Beaver sings, “Sometimes you just want to hold something beautiful even though it makes your hands bleed and leaves your heart so hollow.”
There’s a lot of love on “Vegas,” the sexy apocalyptic track “When This World Ends” with Maren Morris and the swampy “Fast,” the latter of which is destined to be the official summer make out anthem of 2016.
An abbreviated version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Jesus Was a Capricorn” precedes “Kristofferson,” which Beaver co-wrote with the hit-making power couple Jessi Alexander and Jon Randall (Alexander and Randall’s live version opened The Life & Songs of Kris Kristofferson tribute that taped at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena in March).
But it’s probably the syncopation in “Still Yours,” the dirty blues in “Gravedigger” and the honesty in “Habit” that make Beaver a big hit with country’s leading ladies. He’s toured with Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, Maren Morris, Kacey Musgraves and Lee Ann Womack.
In the haunting title track, Beaver warns of relying on the things that get us by, while the closer “If I Had a Horse,” reminds the listener if we remembered where we came from, we’d live without fear.
“You can see people are really pushing the limits on music and trying to do something different,” he said. “Even with this record, the goal was to make a great record with great songs and to push the envelope sonically. But the music everybody is putting out is pretty inspiring. It keeps the creativity going – people, life and stories – those are the biggest conversations I’ve had.”
Rx is available now. Beaver is on the road this summer with stops at Nashville’s 2016 CMA Music Festival and Chicago’s Windy City Smokeout.