Ryan Montbleau’s upcoming Woodstock Sessions live album, whose previously unreleased “Looking Glass” is premiering exclusively below, is a kind of return to the scene of the crime.
Due Oct. 26, Woodstock Sessions was recorded during a December 2017 live session in front of an audience at Applehead Recording, where the first two Ryan Montbleau Band albums — 2006’s One Fine Color and 2007’s Patience on Friday — were recorded. He’s joined on most of the tracks by the duo Tall Heights, running through a repertoire of previously released songs in fresh, stripped-down arrangements, plus three songs (“The Country and the Town” and “Help Me” in addition to “Looking Glass”) never before released.
Montbleau tells Billboard he had a standing invitation from Applehead to perform at one of its regular Woodstock Sessions. “It’s a unique recording experience,” Montbleau says, “but I always wanted to do something different if I did it.” Bringing in Tall Heights, who Montbleau met years ago when he judged an open mic contest in Boston, proved to be the key ingredient for what he wanted.
“I stopped by Applehead when they were in there recording last year and saw them and the idea came together to do kind of like my own sort of solo thing and have them back me,” Montbleau explains. “We ended up doing a lot; I played for three hours or do and did tons of stuff. In the end we chose those songs that hadn’t been out before and new versions of other songs. Everything on the record is presented in a way I haven’t presented it before. Every single song has something about it that hasn’t been out before.”
Woodstock Sessions was also influenced by Montbleau’s last album, I Was Just Leaving, which took a more stripped-down, folky approach than some of the predecessors that established Montbleau as a fixture in the jam band world. “The last few years I’ve been getting down to the essence of who I am and what I’m wanting to do,” he says, “speaking my truth as clearly as I can. So it’s gotten really stripped-down in that way, and (Woodstock Sessions) is really a continuation of that — just three voices, two guitars and a cello, and four (songs) solo acoustic.”
“Looking Glass,” which opens the 10-song set, is the track Montbleau “was most excited about going in that night” and finds him commenting on contemporary issues of communication and human interaction. “The idea is just that everybody these days — myself included — we spend so much time staring into these screens, into our phones,” he explains. “It’s amazing the way we can connect nowadays, but it’s also sort of amazing the ways it can isolate us, too. The song is playing into those feelings — there are some sad sort of lines, some more playful lines. It’s not all bad, but it’s not all good, either.”
Woodstock Sessions will send Montbleau out on a tour starting Oct. 3, which will combine solo and full band shows. He also considers the new album “a stepping stone to the next record,” which Montbleau predicts will be different yet again. “I have what will hopefully be my best record coming next,” he says. “I think it will be more fleshed-out. I’ve got tons of song ideas, some finished and some that aren’t. I’m trying to find the right producer for what I’m thinking. I always feel like whatever record I put out is the best I’ve done, and I definitely feel like I have that one coming — again.”