The new EP from acclaimed folk/pop artist Ryan Montbleau. Entitled ‘Water’, each of the songs were written while doing medicine work in Peru, and highlight the healing, meditative and regenerative nature of the country's landscape.
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.
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 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 humour 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.” 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.
“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.”
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.
“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 demonstrate, sometimes the search is its own reward.
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