It took 16 years, but Ryan Chatelain is back with his second album, The Shoestring Sessions, an eclectic mix of songs — some of which he wrote even before his debut was released, others while locked down during the pandemic and several in between.
Following in the footsteps of his 2004 album, Public School, Fast Food and Blue Jeans, the New Jersey-based singer-songwriter’s latest effort is a catchy blend of pop, rock and country.
Some songs on the self-produced Shoestring Sessions will make you smile; others will tug on your heartstrings. It features ballads and country-tinged songs, as well as a couple of punch-you-in-mouth rockers.
But while he might meld genres, Chatelain says there’s one thing in particular that is at the heart of all his songs.
“When I write a song, I want it to have character,” he says. “I want it to make you laugh or think or even bum you out. But above all else, I want it to stick with you for a while. That's my goal anyway.”
So what took so long between releases?
“Life just sometimes has a habit of getting in the way, but that's not always a bad thing,” Chatelain says.
A lot, as you can imagine, has happened in that time. A New Orleans native, Chatelain lived through Hurricane Katrina, which had a hand in his move to New York City. He has gotten married, become a father, lost both of his parents and endured a couple of layoffs from his “day job” as a journalist.
As a result, a sense of maturity can be heard on The Shoestring Sessions, as Chatelain ponders life, relationships and careers. But not all the songs are autobiographical, and while some tracks are certainly somber, Chatelain shies away from creating music that takes itself too seriously overall. That is evident on tracks such as the fun “Life on Mars,” about someone seeking an escape to another world from an emotionally abusive relationship, or “One Step from the Asylum,” a country barroom singalong about a man who unwittingly falls for a murderous woman.
Chatelain has played at some of the top clubs in New York and New Orleans -- including the Big Apple's Knitting Factory and Pianos, and the Crescent City's Tipitina's and Howlin' Wolf. In between albums, he never stopped performing live or writing, but recording, for various reasons, proved elusive.
One thing that has not changed in 16 years is Chatelain’s lineup. On The Shoestring Sessions, he is once again joined by bassist Brandon Pembo, drummer Roddy Ory and lead guitarist Jose Mora.