On Saturday night I had the HUUUUGE pleasure of checking out the Ryan Montbleau band in Portland, Oregon, at the Wonder Ballroom! I had heard about Ryan for years through a family member, and when he came to town, I knew I was going to have to see this guy live to see what all the hype was about!
I literally showed up – not knowing WHAT I was getting myself into. I thought he would be Bluegrassy (I know, it’s not a word), and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that. What I didn’t expect was to LOVE them as much as I did! I absolutely LOVED them! The entire band was absolutely AMAZING. They each were at the top of their game. I found myself dancing to the music, watching them in awe! Amazing!
After the show was over, we actually got a chance to meet Ryan, and he was so great in person. Most of the time when you meet singers – or celebrities – they are just DYING to get away from you. But Ryan was so cool, so laid back, he could have talked to us for hours (picture below). We just had a really great night. It was incredibly fun!!
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 prep work.
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.
With a run of solo-acoustic shows around the Northeast now wrapped up, the band will be hitting a few more spots to close out February, and then it’s out to the great West in support of our friends Greensky Bluegrassin March. These guys are excellent and we’re super excited to finally get back out west!
We’re also very excited to announce a run of shows in the midwest and northeast with ALO. If you know this band then you know why we’re so excited. If you don’t, then we’re even more excited for you to hear them. The vibe between our band and theirs is akin to a kin and a kin! Brothers from different mothers. Peas in a pod.
They have SO MANY shows still available on their tour! You guys MUST check them out! GO HERE for the tour schedule!
Check him out!