Album: Ian Wayne – Risking Illness review

by Dave Bertram

To be frank, Brooklyn-based folk singer-songwriter Ian Wayne’s second long play release, Risking Illness, is a grief-stricken gut punch.

To make me humble, watching you crumble’ – the opening line on Now Is Was – is one of many references to deep personal tragedy scattered across the record. While on tour with his band on the East Coast several years ago, Wayne learned his three-year-old nephew had been diagnosed with leukaemia – just two weeks later, Merlin passed away.

Unlike his comparably upbeat debut, Risking Illness finds Wayne in an understandably more sombre mood. The gentle Now Is Was is reflective like Neil Young and empty like Phil Elverum, Was/Just Was is direct like the late Scott Hutchinson – and follows a couple of his arrangement tricks too – while Baby delivers the soft Americana that was so dearly loved from Whiskeytown.

The record kicks off at points – namely on the occasionally unhinged Gimme Something – but it’s in the most tranquil moments where Risking Illness packs the punches. ‘Baby I will always love you, in between the times that I do not,’ manifests a thread of romantic loss on Baby; Aperture is beautifully rough around the edges, as Wayne mourns softly over his acoustic; the sparsely arranged People captures the record’s raison d’être succinctly across the bridge with ‘It could happen to anyone’.

But perhaps the finest moment is saved for last. This finds Wayne aboard the piano, trundling slowly through soft chords crooning – ‘Stuck on the losing end of this green light, and out of season, bells are ringing.’

A fitting end for a folk record that deals heavily in sadness and melancholy.

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