Ryan Shaw is an American soul musician from Decatur, Georgia. Shaw began his musical career early at the age of three when he began singing at his Pentecostal church. After appearing in gospel musicals and plays, Shaw went on to New York to sing Motown covers with the Fabulous Soul Shakers in 2004. After a demo of his caught the ear of Columbia Records in 2006, Shaw went on to record his debut album This Is Ryan Shaw in 2007, which contained new material in addition to covers of songs from Bobby Womack, Wilson Pickett, and Jackie Wilson. Shaw went on to earn Grammy nominations and opened for Van Halen’s 2007-2008 tour. Shaw’s much anticipated album Real Love came out on May 15th of 2012.
“In the nighttime, do your tears fall like rain? And in the morning, do they start all over again?” asks Ryan Shaw on his version of the ‘70s soul ballad “You Don’t Know Nothing About Love.” “Well if you don't know what I'm talking about, then you don't know nothing about love.” If that’s the case—that truly knowing love means being intimately familiar with the searing, debilitating pain it causes—then the 31-year-old singer must have a doctorate in heartache. On Real Love, the Georgia-born crooner’s second album, Shaw rarely exalts the dreamy palpitations related to finding that special someone; his preferred focus is the regret that lingers after that someone picks up and leaves. In an age where most modern R&B reduces relationships to conquests, it’s a refreshingly old-school perspective. But then, Shaw is a bit of an old-school soul man, anyway. You won’t find any Euro-club beats or hip-hop breakdowns on his records, and his influences don’t get much more contemporary than Luther Vandross. On the other hand, Shaw isn’t one of these retro-minded antiquities fetishists, either. He isn’t recording on vintage equipment, trying to pass himself off as some lost artifact from the Stax era. Instead, he interprets the pulsing rhythms, expressive horns and complex emotions of Motown via slick, modern production. In short, Ryan Shaw is nobody but himself. Raised in the church—he didn’t even hear much secular music until 1998, when he dropped out of college to join the cast of Tyler Perry’s I Know I’ve Been Changed and moved to New York—there is the tint of gospel in Shaw’s smooth, powerful voice. His concerns on Real Love, however, are more earthly than spiritual: “Gone, Gone, Gone” is the male flipside of “Single Ladies,” written from the perspective of the guy who should’ve put a ring on it; “Karina” and “In Between” are the pleas of an idiot who screwed up a good thing; and “The Wrong Man” seethes with the deluded jealousy of a dude who refuses to acknowledge that his ex is happier without him. Only on the revved-up “That Is Why” does Shaw truly celebrate the euphoria of actually being in love. But the album isn’t cynical. Shaw is just smart enough to know that when it comes to real love—passionate, all-consuming, complicated love—pain and joy are nearly indistinguishable.