LIVE REVIEW: Ryan Sambol @ Manhattan Inn

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Is Ryan Sambol half in the bag? It’s hard to say. The at-ease Texan and former Strange Boys and Living Grateful member could be over the eight, or perhaps just relaxed.  Since I last saw him at Cake Shop in 2015, Sambol has sprouted a substantial mustache and taken to wearing an all-you-can eat cowboy hat – but I suppose that’s fair play when you hail from the Lone Star State. At Manhattan Inn last Monday in conjunction with LPR Presents, Sambol charmed the audience with his laid-back persona and oafish delivery.

The “stage” at Manhattan Inn is truthfully a sunken square surrounded by a seated audience. The artist almost appears like a gladiator or a prized Doberman in a dog pit. Sambol seemed at risk of being swallowed by the instruments around him…or perhaps by his hat. His set was sandwiched between Brooklyn’s Swoon Lake and Sam Cohen, but the Texan stole the show in my opinion, despite his rakish appearance and minimal instrumentation.

I haven’t heard word of a new album from Sambol, though the slew of unfamiliar songs in his set would suggest one. He played a handful from his 2015 solo debut Now Ritual, most notably “Dinner Where I’m Staying” and “Amazing Rain,” for which he hopped on the Inn’s shining white piano.

Throughout the gig, Sambol would accompany himself by elbowing the crash cymbal on the headliner’s drum set with stooge-like technique, almost as if he didn’t notice there was a kit next to him at all. He has a voice that can’t get out of bed in the morning but manages to be beautiful in its own hungover way. Sambol’s compositions seem like lazy cowboy takes on Harry Nilsson, late ‘60s Dylan, Randy Newman, and Van Dyke Parks, and that ‘aint a bad thing at all.

I could be mistaken, as the question mark in my notebook suggests, but I’m fairly certain that at one point between songs Sambol mumbled something like, “self is the only hell;” perhaps a more lyrical take on the Henry Van Dyke quote, “self is the only prison.” Not sure if that’s true, but I’d like to think so. Ryan Sambol surely is an odd little bird, but one with more to him than he tends to let on. I look forward to hearing what he does next.