July 2015

Peabody’s Rambling Man Begins Again

By Nick Macksood

Ryan Montbleau’s 2002 LP Begin is telling for a debut album. It is largely a solo work–just a voice and a guitar–and Montbleau has no trouble filling the empty spaces. R&B vocals meet bluesy rhythms on guitar in what sounds like classic Americana. Even the title itself, Begin, suggests that there is a middle, and end. That’s a lot of confidence for a kid who had only earned his degree in English a few years prior.

Growing Light Album CoverNow, thirteen years later and nine albums to his resume, Montbleau can comfortably say that his poetry classes paid off. For the last ten years, he has toured around the globe with the Ryan Montbleau Band, pausing here and there to work in the studio. His band’s latest release, Growing Light, is also the final album that the original Ryan Montbleau lineup will produce. Before heading into the studio, Montbleau said that two members had decided to leave the band to spend time with family or to try new things. Asked whether or not there was any pressure to create a particularly special record knowing that Growing Light would be their last, Montbleau said, “there was a certain amount of clarity” knowing that this was it, “I’m proud of what we did. It’s some of the best music we’ve done as a group.” Ten years of being on the road and playing live would lay the groundwork for the album. “We were ready musically for that record,” Montbleau added. It shows. Constantly on stage together and building a near-telekinetic rapport, their mutual bond is imprinted onto Growing Light.

The record also demonstrates a natural shift in tone. Montbleau’s R&B roots heard in Begin are never totally absent in Growing Light, only colored with a little more soul. Horn sections, funk rhythms, even electric guitars and allusions to Purple Rain are all testaments to Montbleau’s influences, which he admitted, are all over the map. A little Paul Simon. Some Martin Sexton. Or as he put it, “Anything goes.”

That kind of variance could be a challenge for some fans. It’s easy to dismiss later albums in an artist’s career, records that have strayed too far from their roots. And while Montbleau’s music has evolved more organically than other groups, he said, “I think our fans are used to that kind of change… It’s part of your job as an artist to challenge your fans. You have to get better and trust in that process. And it’s totally a cliché but you have to follow your heart. You have to follow your muse and wherever it takes you.”

Ryan_blueback copy

Ryan (blueback copy) by Shaun O’Rourke

As for what’s next, Montbleau will be touring with a new, “killer core group of musicians” and is set to headline the MV Sound Festival taking place on July 11-12. Originally from Peabody, the trip back to the island will be somewhat of a homecoming for Montbleau who lived here for a brief stint. His favorite part about the Vineyard? “Oh, the natural beauty for sure. It’s a whole other world. Winters can be bitter cold, but it’s worth it sometimes when you see some amazing sunsets.” The worst part? “The ferry [laughs]. As a musician, being beholden to those schedules can be a problem when you need to leave.” And the lack of a schedule? That’s something Montbleau is looking forward to as the summer shows wind down. “I’m looking to shift things, take a step back. Focus more on the writing, the records and play more solo shows, which I love doing.” Ryan Montbleau is, once again, a voice and a guitar. Everything changes. Nothing ever changes at all.