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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Ryan Montbleau Band

Heavy on the Vine

Review by Gary Hill

I’ve heard this disc and band praised on NPR quite a bit. Mind you, part of what the critics are raving about are the live shows. I can’t comment on the band’s live performances because I’ve yet to see them in that setting. What I can say is, in terms of this album, it’s a good one, but misses the greatness mark by quite a bit. Any one song here taken by itself is well worth the time to listen and enjoy. The problem is, there is too little variety on show. Too many of the cuts seems way too similar. That sort of wears heavy on the listener making it through the disc from beginning to end. The really sad part is, part of that could have been prevented. Later in the set there are a couple of songs back to back that both represent highlights of the disc and well-needed variety. If one of those had been moved back a few slots, the disc would have played better from beginning to end. Of course, the era of people listening to albums beginning to end is fading. That’s a shame because you can’t achieve any sort of depth or high art in one short song. But, bands like this one probably do well if you take their music one cut at a time.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2011  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Slippery Road

The vocals lead this off with minor accompaniment. There’s sort of a jazzy nature to this early section, but it moves to a more standard balladic motif as it continues. There are some tasty retro keyboard sounds on the tune. It powers out to a bouncy kind of alternative pop rock sound with some jazz in the mix.

Songbird
There is a definite reggae element to this, but there are also sounds that call to mind soul music and at times some bluegrass. I guess the best description would be Americana. It’s got a bit more energy than the previous piece. The bouncy rhythm to this and the vocal delivery are definitely reggae based.
I Can't Wait
Take a country and western rhythm section, blend in some jazz and Dave Matthews. Now, you’ve got a good idea of what this track is like. There’s definitely some old time rock and roll at play, too.
Fix Your Wings
This reminds me of an old song, think late 1950s or early 1960s, but I can’t place it. It’s got a killer pop rock sound that’s soulful and jazzy and a lot of fun. The vocal arrangement later in the track takes on a gospel kind of sound.
Carry
An acoustic guitar based balladic number, this feels a lot like Dave Matthews. It’s another good tune. It doesn’t change or alter much.
Chariot (I Know)
Another acoustic based ballad, I actually like this song (by itself) better than the previous one. The only problem is, by this point in the set, the formula is beginning to wear a bit thin. The tempo or volume level doesn’t change enough and every thing is starting to blend together.
Hands
There is a cool jazzy bass line driving this tune and a lot more of a pure jazz (with 70s funk) element to this piece. That elevates beyond the norm of the disc and makes this one of the stronger cuts on show. It also does a great job of removing some of the monolithic element of the disc. It’s an instrumental.
Here et al.
There’s a tasty groove to this piece, too. It’s got some nice violin and a lot of jazz on show. It’s another that goes a long way toward saving the album from mediocrity. If this track or “Hands” had been placed about three songs before the location on the disc, it would have made for a stronger CD overall by breaking up some of the more similar pieces. This is one of the highlights of the set and is extremely powerful. There is a killer retro keyboard solo on show, too.
Love Songs
Now, this has more of the kind of groove we heard earlier on the set. There’s more energy to this piece, though, and the last couple tracks broke things up enough that it’s more fresh and works very well.
More and More and More
A slow groove with a lot of country music in the mix makes up this tune. It’s fun and another that goes a long way to bring some variety to the table.
My Best Guess
Back to the field of more of the same, this is a good song, but loses a bit from the overall “heard it before” element.
Stay
There is a cool ragtime groove to this piece. It’s got plenty of jazz on show and is a lot of fun. It’s also a nice change of pace, bringing things back onto a positive track.
Lonesome Serenade
While in some ways this suffers a bit from the sameness syndrome, there are some great retro soulful textures and the powered up section later is very powerful. It’s a fine example how just some small intensifications can bring some variety to the table.
Straw in the Wind
This is another strong piece. It’s arguably the best track on show here. That makes it a great choice for closer. There’s a lot of energy and power here. It still maintains a lot of the elements that seem trademarks of the group, but pulls them off with a charm and power not heard in other places here. There is a bit of a classic rock (and might I say prog rock) edge to this at times and it just seems to be more potent in terms of delivery and song structure. Don’t believe me on that prog rock reference? Check out the keyboard soloing late in the piece.
 
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