On the cover of Roadhouse 01 (2017), Allan Rayman stares down the camera, bearded and underexposed. It’s probably the first time listeners have seen him, not that that would upset him – the social-media-and-celebrity-lite Rayman has maintained a low-profile since dropping his debut album last year.
Roadhouse 01 (2017) is Rayman’s sophomore effort, a follow-up to 2016’s Hotel Allan. As Rayman describes it, Roadhouse 01 is a concept album that tells the story of an alter-ego named Mr. Roadhouse. When it’s over, Mr. Roadhouse is better defined than Rayman himself.
As he explains on “Shelby Moves,” Rayman is interview-averse. His first-ever interview, a conversation with Billboard, was published just last week, and there’s relatively little that’s known about the Toronto-based artist. Although the song is about his alter-ego, it’s informed by Rayman’s personal aversion to celebrity and fandom.
As a musician and a writer, Rayman is an adept talent. Rayman writes in stories, crafting lyrics that tell narratives reminiscent of Country songs. Musically he employs a genre-mixing sound that combines elements of R&B, Rap, and Electronic production under his wide vocal range.
Rayman’s voice gets its best showcase on “Wolf,” a slow-burning, brooding track, that highlights his distinctively raspy, sometimes growly, vocals. Throughout the album Rayman’s voice can get buried under his production, but “Wolf,” the album’s opener, proves that Rayman is at his best – and his most interesting – when he’s less burdened by his genre-mixing tendencies. Combining elements of different genres isn’t anything novel, especially ones with as much crossover as R&B, Rap and Electronic music. Rayman does it well, but doesn’t take the opportunity to push genre-blending in any new direction.
That’s not to say his blend of styles isn’t interesting, but there’s a difference between interesting and distinctive. Despite the many genres, the album feels safe and risk-free. Some elements, like Rayman’s vocals on “Wolf” and the electronic beats of “Head over Heels” and “13,” appear a few times, but soon after recede into the background. Rayman dips his toe into the water but rarely makes the jump
Maybe, though, it’s all part of his design. In the Billboard interview, Rayman explained, “I didn’t want to have a favorite song off the album, but more of a favorite part of a song.”
If this was his plan, he succeeded; there’s only one standout song, and the album’s highlights come in pieces – a hook here, a verse there, the beginning of one song or the end of another. At times it makes for tiresome listening, and the album feels significantly longer than its 40-minute runtime. It also causes the album to seem more experimental and self-indulgent than fully realized.
Speaking of the one standout: “13” proves that Rayman is capable of far more than Roadhouse 01 might let on. The jauntiest song on an otherwise dark album, the track lacks the more cluttered production of others, sticking with a clean electronic sound that provides another opportunity to showcase Rayman’s vocals.
“13” shows that with some more focus and more commitment to a style, Rayman can rise to great heights. Or, maybe, Rayman should fully embrace risk and push his genre-bending in a new and unique direction. Whether it’s the convention or the risk something has to give. But for now, on Roadhouse 01, Allan Rayman is just lane splitting.
Written by Jordan Aronson