SHOW DATES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE
Wed Oct 19 2022
8:00 PM (Doors 6:00 PM)
33157 Camino Capistrano, Suite C San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
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The American Troubadour Tour
Todd Snider with Special Guest Ryan Montbleau
One morning near the end of August, Todd Snider was relaxing with a visitor on the back porch of his house just outside Nashville, drinking coffee and shooting the breeze while his dog, Cowboy Jim, took a nap nearby. After awhile, Snider said to his guest, “I’ve got an album’s worth of songs, and I think the songs are telling me to make a folk record.”
This was a surprising bit of news considering he had spent the last six years making rock albums of one kind or another. But Snider was feeling as if he had “maybe drifted too far from the shore.” He was feeling the pull to start over, to go back to what he was doing when he first began, to return to his roots as a folksinger.
If Snider needed any further evidence that was the direction he should pursue, he got it a half hour later. Back inside his home office, he checked his email and had one from his manager informing him he had just received an offer to play the 2019 Newport Folk Festival, an event he had never done.
Snider mentioned he had been listening to Woody Guthrie’s Library of Congress Recordings, then crossed the room to the turntable and put the needle down on side one of the record. “Woody Guthrie sometimes gets me reset on why you do a song, instead of how,” Snider explains of the man who has long been a touchstone for him. “When I was young, there was something about him that made me want to do it. So once or twice a year, I’ll go back to him, I’ll go back to the source.”
Guthrie famously had the words “This machine kills fascists” printed on his guitar, and on several of the songs on Snider’s new album, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3, he squarely aims his guitar at the creeping fascism he sees in America. He had been wanting to make a political record since 2016, and although only half the songs lean in that direction, there is one constant throughout the album: a man, his guitar, and the truth.
Snider has long been recognized as one of his generation’s most gifted and engaging songwriters, so it’s no surprise he has returned with a brilliant set of songs — and make no mistake, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3 contains some of his best work as a writer. But what really jumps out on the album is Snider’s growth as a musician and vocalist. He plays all the instruments on the record, and his guitar work and harmonica playing are nothing short of exceptional; not only full of feeling, but highly skilled. In regards to his guitar playing on the record, Snider says he wanted to take everything he’s learned over the past 30 years and play the way he used to play really well.
As far as his vocals on the album are concerned, Snider is singing with more confidence than ever, a confidence born in part from his time with Hard Working Americans doing nothing but sing. His stirring vocal performances range from slurring blues mumble to Dylanesque talking blues to gravely, honest ache.
Of the five songs on which Snider serves up his humorous brand of socio-political commentary, three are performed in the talking blues style: “Talking Reality Television Blues,” a hilariously accurate short history of television; “The Blues on Banjo,” a bad case of the blues caused by the sorry state of everything from the crooked international monetary-military-industrial complex to the spineless politicians who serve it and which references “Blue Suede Shoes,” Richard Lewis, and Townes Van Zandt; and “A Timeless Response to Current Events,” a brilliant bit of wordplay on which he calls bullshit on faux patriotism, crooked capitalism, and lying politicians. Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires contributed backing vocals on the latter two songs.
There are two other songs on the album featuring Snider’s socio-political points of view: “Just Like Overnight,” about the surprising inevitability of change, and “Framed,” written from the point of view of the framed "first dollar bill" in a bar, a point of view that shows doing the right thing doesn't pay.
There also are three songs with a music theme. If not for the events that led to the writing of one of those songs,“The Ghost of Johnny Cash,” there almost certainly would be no Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3. After a visit to Cash Cabin Studio for a Loretta Lynn session in 2015 where she recorded a song they cowrote, Snider began having a recurring dream about the studio that featured the Man in Black himself. The dream led him to book time at the studio and ultimately inspired him to write “The Ghost of Johnny Cash,” which tells the story of Loretta Lynn dancing with Cash’s ghost outside the studio in the middle of the night. As he did on much of the record, Snider played the century-old Martin that had long been Johnny Cash’s favorite instrument on that song.
Snider paid tribute to Cash’s longtime friend and confidante in another of the music-themed songs, “Cowboy Jack Clement’s Waltz.” Inspired by the iconic record man’s oft-quoted maxims regarding the art of recording, the song achingly laments Clement’s passing, while touchingly celebrating his legacy.
The album opens with the other song with a music theme, “Working on a Song.” It’s an existential exercise, a song Snider wrote about writing a song called “Where Do I Go Now That I’m Gone,” an idea he actually has been working on for thirty years, but which remains unfinished.
There are also two songs that are personal in nature: “Watering Flowers in the Rain,” which was inspired by a former associate of Snider’s whose nickname was “Elvis,” and “Like a Force of Nature,” a philosophical reflection on the orbital nature of friendships. Isbell also added harmony vocals to “Like a Force of Nature.”
If Snider is anything, he is a true artist, and he reminds us of that on Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3. At a point in time when the world has never been more complicated and confusing, with people getting louder and louder, Snider did a 180, went back to his roots as a folksinger, to a simpler, quieter form of expression; and it might be what the world is waiting to hear: just a man, his guitar, and the truth.
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 American Troubadour Tour
Todd Snider with Special Guest Ryan Montbleau
Wed Oct 19 2022 8:00 PM
(Doors 6:00 PM)
$30.00 All Ages
SHOW DATES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE