Ryan Montbleau Solo w/ Jason Myles Goss
Songs for Ryan Montbleau typically need to simmer. In his 10-year career this gifted singer and his limber band have built their catalog the old-fashioned way, by introducing new songs to their live set, then bending and shaping them over dozens of performances before committing a definitive version to the hard drive.
For that and many other reasons, Montbleau's next album, For Higher, is quite literally a departure. Well-established out of his home base in the Northeast, the singer threw himself into New Orleans, where everything is slow-cooked, for a few fast-moving days and whipped up an instant delicacy.
A few of the cuts on the new album the playful stomp of "Deadset" or "Head Above Water," freshly peppered with horns were already part of the Ryan Montbleau Band's ever-growing repertoire. But the majority, including four handpicked cover tunes stone soul nuggets from Bill Withers, Curtis Mayfield, the late Muscle Shoals guitarist Eddie Hinton and more came together spontaneously, with little prepwork.
It was a feel thing, with Montbleau putting heads together with fellow music head Ben Ellman of New Orleans flag-bearers Galactic. The singer and songwriter first eased his way into the city when he was invited to contribute songs to Backatown, the breakthrough album of favorite son Trombone Shorty. That went so well, Montbleau co-wrote two more songs for Shorty's recent follow-up, "For True."
When Montbleau sent videos of himself performing the songs, Ellman, who produced "Backatown," was impressed. Why not come down and do a record of your own? he asked.
Almost before he got an answer, Ellman had assembled a band of ringers keyboard/B3 player Ivan Neville, French Quarter mainstay Anders Osborne on guitar, drummer Simon Lott, and the estimable George Porter, Jr. of the Meters and countless funky sessions on bass. Though Montbleau has released several solo records and three albums credited to his full band, he felt like this was an all-new hurdle he'd have to clear.
"My main issue was, what would I bring in for material?" he recalls, sitting in the kitchen of the spacious home he and several bandmates share in an industrial city north of Boston. "I'd never done a session like that.
"Our band will 'shed songs on the road for years and then record them, and there's strength in that. But there's also strength in putting together these other badasses for a few days."
And his New Orleans band proved, in fact, to be most badass. If Montbleau was initially a bit apprehensive that the sessions might represent just another paycheck for his sidemen, he quickly learned otherwise. "Every single person, kind of to my amazement, got into it," he says. "They listened to every playback, and they were high-fiving each other. They were great."
Staying at Ellman's house while recording the new album, Montbleau spent his downtime cruising the streets of New Orleans on a borrowed vintage bike. "There's clearly no American city like it, at all," he says. "It's deep, dark and beautiful."
Unlike Montbleau's previous recordings, which showcase his own maturing songcraft, the new album draws a lot of its depth and beauty from its cover songs. Perfectly titled is the beatific "Sweet, Nice and High," originally recorded by the forgotten soul supergroup Rhinoceros. On the other end of the moodswing, Mayfield's "Here But I'm Gone," written and recorded for the great singer's last album, after the accident that left him paralyzed, is a shimmering testament to human frailty.
"Sometimes I feel like there are so many songs who the hell needs another song?" Montbleau asks. But then he'll discover another new inspiration sitting at the kitchen table sipping tea, there's a vinyl copy of an old Billy Preston album propped on the windowsill behind him and another lyric or melody will come to him like a visitation. And when the song becomes a reality, and the crowds begin to sing it back to him, well, that's what it's all about.
At 34, he's a late-bloomer who's right on time. Montbleau didn't start singing and playing guitar in earnest until he was in college, at Villanova. Later, working at the House of Blues in Boston, he began playing solo sets there as a warmup act. His band there's now six of them came together naturally, over time, planting strong roots in coffeeshops, folk venues and rock clubs before converting audiences on an outdoor festival circuit that now stretches across the country. Through word of mouth and repeat visits, the band has built a devoted following from the Northeast to Chicago, Seattle and Austin. "It's like watching the grass grow," says the easygoing Montbleau.
Far from feeling left out of the New Orleans sessions, his band is already feeding hungrily on the arrangements from the new album in their live sets.
"We've done a good job staying in one direction, just moving forward," says the singer. "We all just really want to get better. I try to instill it in the guys if we just keep it together, good stuff is gonna continue to happen."
When the crowds are dancing, the band digs deeper in the pocket. But Montbleau, who still performs solo, is constantly looking to strike a balance between the contagious energy of moving bodies and making a closer connection.
"You can still dance and have a good time," he says of his fast-spreading fan base, "but I love when you listen."
Jason Myles Goss:"Goss is part of the same continuum of literate, acoustic-driven singer-songwriters that includes not only [Josh] Ritter, but also Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, and Lucinda Williams." - Dave Lifton, PopDose
Jason has been writing and recording since 2003 when he released his first full length album "Long Way Down." Since then, he's spent his time touring and releasing subsequent albums before settling down long enough to make "Radio Dial," in which he enlisted the help of friends Austin Nevins (guitars) and Sam Kassirer (keys), both members of Josh Ritter's Royal City Band, as well as David Dawda (bass) and Joel Arnow (drums).
Self-produced at Vanity Sound in Brooklyn, NY, Jason and engineer Myles Turney began by recording live to analog tape, giving the foundation of the album a scrappy, raw quality, evocative of roots-based albums like Lucinda Williams' "Car Wheels On A Gravel Road," or, the more modern day, Wilco's "Sky Blue Sky." Yet, the songs also contained big, melody-driven, pop ambitions in the vein of records like Counting Crows' "August and Everything After," or The Wallflowers' "Bringing Down The Horse" song-centric 90's rock records that occupied Jason's world when he was a teenager growing up in a small mill town. However, rather than grapple with these two divergent influences, Jason strove at the outset to make a record where they both could sit side by side at the same musical table. It was in that spirit that "Radio Dial," Jason's fourth album, was born.
Points of Interest:
2012, 2011 & 2009 Northeast Finalist in Mountain Stage New Song Contest
2011 Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artist
2010 "Twilight Serenade" in top 100 most downloaded songs for singer/songwriters on iTunes
2007 Voted #4 out of 10 for best acoustic acts by OurStage.com
2006 Finalist in the Starbucks Music Makers Compilation
2003 Finalist in Newport Folk Festival Songwriters' Contest
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