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Alt-Country / Americana / Singer-Songwriter
RiverFools & Mountain Saints - Likethe creeks that run and tributaries that trickle throughout singer-songwriterIan Noe’s homelands in Eastern Kentucky, water flows throughout his new LP.Thoughtfully and intentionally named, RiverFools & Mountain Saints highlights Noe’s storytelling prowess through12 country rockers and Appalachian ballads, depicting contemporary andhistorical life in the region.
Water’sin the name, of course — River Fools &Mountain Saints, which is due out March 25 via Thirty Tigers — but wateralso informs the tales Noe tells and the metaphors of perseverance, sustenance,and strength within them. The major floods that decimated the southeastern partof the state in February 2020 remained close at heart during his writingprocess, as well.
Thealbum title came to Noe before any of the songs, serving as a concept and aguiding principle. “That landscape and that geography of growing up in LeeCounty, Kentucky,” he begins, “I've got so much material of things that I canwrite about, of stories of all these people and just life in general of growingup there.”
“Youthink about the river? It's down here. It’s low. And then you got the mountainsup high. You've got everything in this way! You can go all over the place withthat type of landscape, and that's how [the writing] starts.”
Fromthere, Noe pieced together what would become Side A, or “River Fools,” and SideB, “Mountain Saints.” He writes in character studies — the man who introducedhim to “Johnny B. Goode” while working in the Lee County oilfields, the womanhe saw hustling weed in the foothills, and even state legends like Muhammad Aliand family members become their own heroes in songs like “River Fool,” MountainSaint,” and “Strip Job Blues,” respectively.
Noeoften sings about members of his community, honoring the Indigenous people andcultures of the region on “Burning Down the Prairie” or the many veterans ofthe town on songs like “POW Blues” and “Tom Barrett.” But on other tracks likeon the pedal-steel laced “Lonesome As It Gets,” he takes a moreautobiographical approach, turning the lens back on himself while living alonein his grandparents’ old house.
Evenwith nature’s guidance, people remainat the core of the record. And while Noe calls Bowling Green home these daysand Kentuckians influenced the songs’ creation, these stories capture universalthemes relatable to all listeners.
Broaderin scope and brighter in tone than his lauded debut, 2019’s Between the Country, River Fools & Mountain Saints boastsa fuller sound with more diverse instrumentation. Noe name-drops full-lengthmasterpieces like Bruce Springsteen’s Darknesson the Edge of Town as readily as Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible for structural inspiration, as well as Neil Young’sharmonica work in “Heart of Gold” and Jimi Hendrix’s guitar playing in a rareversion of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” from 1970 for specific tones.
Noealso cites Alabama Shakes’ self-titled debut and Margo Price’s records assounds that led him to work with producer Andrija Tokic in Nashville. “The factthat I got to work with him is surreal to me after all these yearslater…romanticizing the sound he’s getting here and the name of the place — TheBomb Shelter,” he exudes. Noe also expanded his sound with the help of bandmembers including "Little" Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs) on bass andDerry deBorja (Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit) on keys.
Theyrecorded on reel-to-reel tapes in short spurts over the course of two years,without the pressure of time, which enabled a wider range of experimentations,collaborations, and sounds. As a result, RiverFools & Mountain Saints switched from rocking like Creedence ClearwaterRevival to intoning like John Prine or Tom T. Hall; it swaggers with keys onsongs like “Pine Grove (Madhouse),” bursts with French horn bombast “One MoreNight,” and swells with orchestrated strings on the gutting closing ballad,“Road May Flood/It’s A Heartache.”
“Youwanna write a song that’s been there forever,” he says. “When you listen to ‘UpOn Cripple Creek’ by The Band, you don't think about what year it is. It soundslike it’s always been there.”
Hecontinues, “But you just can't sit down and make it happen like that. If ithappens, then you have to recognize that you’re on to something. I tried tomake each song like that; I wanted to make each song a solid as possible. Thatwas my goal.”
Despitebeing written in quarantine and in the wake of natural disasters, River Fools & Mountain Saintsremains a positive record. Noe maintains it’s about good moments growing up ina hard place. But most importantly, it’s about music as redemption,romanticism, and release.
Written by Hilary Saunders