Mix some funky Muscle Shoals groove, Stax Records soul and Northwest Arkansas roots, and the result will be something like "New Old Stock," the recent EP from Pat Ryan Key.
The Madison County singer-songwriter released the four-song project July 16 on streaming services and at patryankey.com.
It opens with the spry, funky pop of "How About It"; "Messed Up" is a bluesy, gospel-tinged tale of regret and lost love; "Tempted" is an atmospheric head bobber about resilience and faith; and the EP closes with the bright, uplifting vibes of "Focus."
"If the sun doesn't shine/tomorrow I'll be fine," Key declares with confidence as the track ends.
The 35-year-old grew up in Rogers and was exposed to classic rock and grunge by his father, William.
"We listened to 'Superunknown' by Soundgarden probably every day for six months when I was [a kid]," Key says. "Later, he introduced me to Led Zeppelin, and that's when everything took off."
To his young mind, it was the way the music was structured that made the biggest impression.
"I was never one to listen to or memorize lyrics or song titles," he says. "It was always the music that appealed to me. I guess my brain punched up the arrangements."
He played trombone in the Greer Lingle Middle School band and eventually took up the bass and later drums, playing in rock groups with his buddies and listening to bands like Blink-182, Incubus, Deftones and Rage Against the Machine.
He was drumming in a band, but his songwriting itch wasn't being scratched, so he taught himself guitar and starting writing on his own.
In 2011 his band i do declare, a '90s alt-rock style outfit, released the album "A Rebel's Chance." "Guncle," from 2016, was his solo debut.
In 2013, he left his day job and was a full-time musician when he was diagnosed with medullablastoma, a type of brain cancer that mostly affects children and is rare in adults.
"It was something I chased for over a year before I was diagnosed. I'd be performing and all of a sudden I'd get this frog in my throat. It was really frustrating."
By autumn 2016, he was experiencing vertigo and migraines, and things were getting worse.
"I couldn't will myself to do what I wanted to do," Key says.
He was finally diagnosed after a fall, and a tumor the size of a golf ball on his brain was discovered. He was given a 50-50 chance of survival.
The cancerous tumor was removed and Key underwent a month's worth of grueling radiation treatments. Four years later, he's back to 100%.
"It was a milestone in my life," he says. "There's a 'before cancer' and an 'after cancer.'"
He chronicled the ordeal in "Dead Man Walking," the 2020 single with his friend, collaborator and mentor, guitarist Al Halpin.
It was through Halpin that he was introduced to blues and soul. The two have played more than 250 shows together, Key says.
"Meeting Al was a game-changer for me. He's a phenomenal blues player. You can try to emulate him, get the same guitar he uses, the same amp, but you are not going to get the same tone that Al does. He has his own sound. Performing with him has opened so many avenues. It's been a great treasure."
With time on his hands because of the pandemic, he worked on the songs that make up "New Old Stock." The EP was recorded between March and December at Haxton Road Studios in Bentonville with Matt Nelson, Sean Campbell, Phil Cristofaro, Lauren Greenhaw, Brooke Ceola and studio owner Neil Greenhaw.
"Being in there with the team that Neil has was priceless," Key says. "I would make a demo at home, and we built the songs around the demos. There were no egos; it was a very comfortable experience."
He recorded "Messed Up" and "Tempted" first, and later brought in the other two tracks, including, "How About It," which started as a simple vamp he recorded for his wife, Jill, that he was trying to wrestle into an actual song.
"I started writing around that little hook, and the song went through so many versions, different arrangements, different keys, tempos, singing styles. I didn't know what to do. Ultimately, Jill came in and heard one of the later drafts and said, 'Hey, I like the way that one sounds.'"
With shows going on again, Key is back to performing.
"I'm really thankful," he says. "Things are picking back up, and it's kind of a whirlwind."
Pat Ryan Key:
Aug. 28 — Basin Spring Park in Eureka Springs, 5 p.m.
Sept. 5 — Redings Mill Inn in Joplin, Mo., 4 p.m.
Sept. 23 — Pig Trail Harley Davidson in Rogers, noon, part of Bikes, Blues & BBQ