With at least 50 albums released by Duluth-area musicians in 2013 — including Low, Retribution Gospel Choir, Trampled by Turtles and Charlie Parr — Ryan Van Slooten’s third solo work had to be considered a long shot in a poll to choose the best local album of the year.
Well, Van Slooten can begin his Victory March; the upset is complete.
Listen to the album, and you might not think it’s an upset at all. The songs are as contemporary radio friendly as music gets. “This is hyper-sincere, highly commercial stuff that anyone’s mom could listen to and not be offended by,” Duluth News Tribune music reviewer Tony Bennett wrote. “It’s barefoot beach-walk music.”
In a local music scene deeply devoted to experimentation and innovation, from retro banjo pluckers to circuit-benders and synth-backed spoken-word mixtape makers, perhaps soft-rock ballads is the best way to stand out. Whatever the case, Van Slooten indeed stood out in 2013. Victory March is expertly produced, and as easy listening as easy listening comes.
On the album’s title track, Van Slooten sings, “You will never walk alone on your victory march.” He didn’t. Some of the area’s top musicians were enlisted to help bring this Victory March together. The tracks were produced by Jake Larson in Duluth’s venerable sandstone cathedral known as Sacred Heart Studio. Jacob Jonker (UMD Dept. of Music faculty member and guitar player for the Formal Age and A Team / B Team) sings backing vocals, as does folk-fusion solo artist Mary Bue. The rhythm-section odd couple of Tom Berrigan (bassist of the What Four and South of Superior, among other groups) and Mat Milinkovich (drummer of Cars & Trucks and Farewell Tour, among other groups) lend their mastery to the album. Scott Millis (of American Rebels and the Acceleratii, among others) also drums on a track.
Those who thought Van Slooten’s musical pinnacle was his decade-long stint with Duluth’s greatest party band and publicity stunt — Bone Appetit — must now take note: the transformation to lauded solo artist is complete, and it’s all about the music.
Victory March took 45 percent of the vote among the top three albums of 2013. Honorable mentions go out to Southwire for its self-titled debut, which held 31.9 percent of the vote, and newcomer Christoph Bruhn’s instrumental freestyle-guitar album Weekends on the Frontier, which took third with 23.1 percent of the vote.