Artists & Entertainers
In Intimate Settings
17 August Wednesday

RYAN MONTBLEAU BAND + THE GHOST OF PAUL REVERE

BECOME A MEMBER

 

RYAN MONTBLEAU

 

For as long as he can remember, Ryan Montbleau’s been a seeker. From the jungles of Peru to the volcanoes of Hawaii, from the beaches of Costa Rica to the streets of Brooklyn, from the backseat of a 16-passenger van to backstage at Carnegie Hall, the acclaimed singer/songwriter has spent much of his life crisscrossing the globe on a perpetual search for meaning, purpose, and understanding. It’s a quest that’s guided him both personally and professionally over the years, one that’s come to define not only his music, but his very sense of self. And yet, listening to Montbleau’s ambitious new multi-part album, Wood, Fire, Water, and Air, there is a profound sense of satisfaction in sitting still, a recognition that perhaps all those spiritual treasures he’s been chasing for so long were closer than he thought.

 

“My whole adult life has been this journey of trying to figure out where home is,” Montbleau reflects. “I think I’ve finally found it.”

 

Set to roll out across four distinct EPs, Wood, Fire, Water, and Air marks Montbleau’s first studio release since putting down permanent roots in Burlington, Vermont, where he recently purchased a house after more than two decades of living on the road. While much of the material here was written in fits and starts over the past several years, it’s clear that the desire for stability was very much on Montbleau’s mind even before he settled on the banks of Lake Champlain, and the songs reflect a maturity and self-awareness that can only come from the difficult work of rigorous self-examination. Montbleau is quick to credit therapy for his growth of late, but he sings about more than just himself here, mixing sly humor and deep revelations as he meditates on the ties that bind all of us perfectly imperfect humans together. Taken as a whole, it’s a broad, insightful collection balancing boisterous rock and roll energy with intimate folk introspection, a sprawling, magnetic record all about listening, letting go, and living life. 

 

“I’ve been through a lot over these past few years,” says Montbleau, “and I’ve experienced some monumental shifts in my perspective. The only way for me to write about it was to just get as honest and vulnerable as I could.”

 

Honesty and vulnerability have been hallmarks of Montbleau’s career since the early 2000’s, when he first began performing around his native Massachusetts. In the years to come, he’d go on to collaborate with artists as diverse as Martin Sexton, Trombone Shorty, Tall Heights, and Galactic, and rack up more than 100 million streams on Spotify alone. Along the way, Montbleau would share bills with stars like Tedeschi Trucks Band, Ani DiFranco, The Wood Brothers, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and Mavis Staples, but it was his ecstatic headline shows—often more than 200 of them a year—that solidified his reputation as a roots rock powerhouse and an inexorable road warrior. NPR’s Mountain Stage compared his “eloquent, soulful songwriting” to Bill Withers and James Taylor, while Relix celebrated his “poetic Americana,” and The Boston Herald raved that “he’s made a career of confident, danceable positivity.”

 

That positivity would serve Montbleau well on the long and winding road to Wood, Fire, Water, and Air. Work on the record first began in the summer of 2019 at the gorgeous Guilford Sound studio in southern Vermont, where Montbleau and producer Adam Landry (Deer Tick, Rayland Baxter) laid down basic tracks with a rotating cast of players. At the time, Montbleau had little idea what he was getting himself into.

 

“I honestly didn’t know what this project was going to be for a very long time,” he explains. “All I knew was that I had a bunch of songs I was really excited about, and that I wanted to take a new approach to recording them.”

 

For much of his career, Montbleau had worked fast and loose in the studio, capturing music as raw and organically as possible. This time around, though, he found himself craving a bolder, more fully realized sound, and by the time he finished basic tracking in Guilford, it was clear that his work had only just begun. What followed was a yearlong odyssey of adding, subtracting, revising, and reimagining, as Montbleau and mixer/engineer James Bridges fleshed out the sessions with a broad array of instruments, textures, and colors.

 

“It took a long time for me to get to a place where I could trust myself enough to stretch out like this,” says Montbleau, who experimented with synthesizers and drum machines and added piano and mandolin to his repertoire for the project. “I’d always kind of deferred to other people’s expertise in the studio, but learning to trust my ears and get my hands dirty with the music was a totally empowering experience.”

 

As the songs took shape, it became clear to Montbleau that there were discrete themes at work within the larger collection, both sonically and emotionally. Rather than release the entire 15-track record all at once, then, he decided he would unveil the album more deliberately over the course of four separate EPs, each inspired by an element of the natural world. First up: Wood, a rustic, earthy trio of tracks taking stock of just what it means to be human in these bewildering times. Songs like the playful “Perfect” and soulful “Ankles” wrap weighty ruminations inside deceptively lighthearted packages, and the spare, stripped-down arrangements make for an ideal bridge between Montbleau’s earlier work and the more adventurous sounds to come on the album’s second installment, Fire. Infused with an infectious energy and feel-good pop optimism, Fire showcases the rock and roll side of Montbleau’s personality, celebrating the joy and liberation that comes with learning to live in the moment.

 

“The songs on Fire were a chance for me to just let loose and have fun,” says Montbleau. “They were an opportunity to not overthink things for a change, to trust my gut and follow what felt good.”

 

The arrival of Water quickly cools things down, though, bringing the music back to Earth with a more sober, meditative quality. Montbleau wrote several of the tracks while doing medicine work in Peru, and the healing, regenerative nature of that trip is obvious on songs like the dreamy “Forgiveness,” which features extensive keyboard contributions from avant-garde icon John Medeski. By the time we reach the album’s final chapter, Air, Montbleau seems to have found peace within himself, coming to terms with the transient, fleeting nature of our existence. “Just know that you are not alone,” he sings on “The Dust,” “and that’s all you get to know now.”

 

“Even though COVID kind of upended everything with my career, this past year has been a rare chance for me to stay put for a while and focus on what really matters,” says Montbleau, who recently invited his girlfriend and her daughter to move in with him in Burlington. “I feel like I finally have a real family life now, and I’m living on stable ground for the first time.”

 

That doesn’t mean the hunt for purpose and meaning is over. Ryan Montbleau will always be a seeker, and that’s alright. As Wood, Fire, Water, and Air so beautifully demonstrates, sometimes the search is its own reward.

 

THE GHOST OF PAUL REVERE

Life constantly changes. It seesaws between hardship and triumph, loss and satisfaction, and heartbreak and love. No matter how much everything fluctuates, community flourishes at the center of existence. It binds and unites all of us. Music stitches together a strong community around The Ghost of Paul Revere. The Maine trio—Max Davis [vocals, banjo], Sean McCarthy [vocals, bass], and Griffin Sherry [vocals, guitar]—examine life’s ebbs and flows through a distinct and dynamic distillation of folk, bluegrass, rock, and alternative on their third full-length album, Good At Losing Everything . In doing so, the band invites listeners to empathize as they holler along. “Over the past few years, we’ve collectively endured many significant changes,” says Griffin. “When you’re writing music, it naturally morphs into what you’re doing. We were going through the same things without necessarily acknowledging it out loud, but the music writes itself along with life.” “We always just wanted to be strong community members who create an excuse for people to come together, process, and share emotions,” agrees Max. “Those individuals who have supported us are growing all of the time. Our audience has given us a degree of freedom to grow. It’s liberating, because we’ve been able to take risks and evolve each time we go into the studio.” Since forming in 2011, the band has created a following that has propelled them from a local to a national level, tallying 15 million total independent streams to date. After releasing the EP North in 2012, their signature style gradually progressed over the course of two full-length albums— Believe [2014] and Monarch [2017]—and a pair of EPs— Field Notes, Vol. 1 [2015] and Field Notes, Vol. 2 [2019]. They also garnered acclaim from the likes of Billboard , Boston Globe , AXS , No Depression , Relix , and The Boot, who appropriately dubbed them, “not quite bluegrass, not quite country, not quite rock ‘n’ roll, but kind of all three combined . ” Along the way, the band has performed alongside The Avett Brothers, Jason Isbell, The Revivalists, Bela Fleck, and The Infamous Stringdusters, sold out countless headlining gigs, and appeared at major festivals nationwide such as Newport Folk, Austin City Limits, WinterWonderGrass, BottleRock Napa, Shaky Knees, Okeechobee, and Voodoo Music + Arts Experience. The boys also took home “Best in Maine” at the New England Music Awards twice, in 2015 and 2019. In 2019, their song, “Ballad Of The 20th Maine”, became the official State Ballad of Maine after being passed unanimously by the Senate and House of Representatives and signed into law by Maine’s Governor, Janet Mills. In 2014, they also began curating, booking, and hosting their very own festival, Ghostland. Rooted in a love for Maine’s music community, the festival has grown into one of the state’s largest festivals, drawing both local and national talent to the annual Labor Day Weekend event. Throughout 2019, they worked on what would become Good At Losing Everything . While it would be their third record with engineer and producer Jonathan Wyman, it would be their first collaboration with friend, producer, and co-writer Spencer Albee. They also welcomed new members, drummer Chuck Gagne and instrumentalist Jackson Kincheloe, as well as pianist Ben Cosgrove, into the fold to record. They demoed initial ideas at Albee’s home studio before moving into a local venue for a month. There, the band continuously played the new songs together on stage until each felt finished. By the time they entered the studio, they were firing on all cylinders. “It was the first time we worked with a producer as we were writing a record,” Sean states. “Since Spencer comes from a different background, he stretched our abilities to places we might’ve been uncomfortable to go to on our own. He gave us a much-needed outside perspective.” “He’s an amazing songwriter with an incredible pop sensibility,” adds Max. “He was really helpful with fortifying the structure, so the music flows.” Thematically, the songs directly addressed a myriad of emotions. Among many trials and tribulations, the passing of a close mutual friend weighed heavy on the musicians as they crafted Good At Losing Everything . “A big part of this album is dealing with personal loss and moving forward,” admits Sean. “We lost our good buddy, Taylor, to cancer. Simultaneously, we were dealing with professional stresses and each going through our own difficulties.” The first single, “Love At Your Convenience”, illuminates the group’s progression. Fueled by shimmering piano, sweeping guitar, and uplifting harmonies, it takes off on a soaring and soulful chant— “My love ain’t here for your convenience, if the grass is greener, then be done with us” —punctuated by unrestrained rock ambition. Meanwhile, the opener and title track “Good At Losing Everything” slips from strains of gospel choir and handclaps into rustling guitar, a steady beat, and hummable harmonica. A heartfelt dedication to Taylor, they dispense some hard-earned knowledge: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned about life, my friend, you get good at losing everything . ” “As Taylor was fighting his battle, I was having very vivid dreams about his passing,” Griffin confesses. “I wrote about what it would be like to go to a friend’s funeral and how I needed to start coping with the feeling before I was in the situation.” Originally composed on an old Casio keyboard, “Two-Hundred and Twenty-Six Days” hinges on warm reverb and an airy buzz as it blossoms into an “upbeat rhythm with somber lyrics , ” according to Max. Then, there’s “Loneliness.” Stark vocals paint a vivid picture of “coping with depression when you’re living on your own , ” as Griffin puts it. Expanding the sonic palette, The Ghost of Paul Revere infuse string sections, looping, and mellotron into immersive interludes such as “28:27” and the outro “We Were Born Wild.” “I started to experiment with looping and reversing tracks while on the road,” remarks Griffin. “I found elements already in our songs that melted together and created a landscape. We had never tried anything like that on a record before.” “We began with just acoustic instruments and made this style we called, ‘Holler Folk’ ,” Sean adds. “Now, we’re taking chances and doing things we wouldn’t have done six years ago. We’re hungry to create new things and challenge what we can do together.” In the end, The Ghost of Paul Revere open up both thematically and musically on Good At Losing Everything . Through widening the creative palette, the sound expands and attracts an even bigger community, while bringing the inner circle closer than ever. “We want to give listeners a whole experience,” Max leaves off. “Hopefully, they find a little comfort in reflecting on their own lives when they hear us.”