Ian Noe - River Fools & Mountain Saints

Ian Noe - River Fools & Mountain Saints



River Fools & Mountain Saints is the follow-up to Noe’s lauded debut Between The Country. Boasting a bigger sound and brighter tone, it highlights Noe’s storytelling prowess through 12 country rockers and Appalachian ballads. Noe sings about members of his community — like the pot-dealing woman who lives at the foothills of

the mountains or soldier who passed away – as well the landscape and natural disasters that inflict the region. On this record, Noe turns the lens inward too, telling more personal tales of heartbreak and loneliness.

The first single “Pine Grove (Madhouse)” begins with a swaggering lick, the opening line “stranded inside a madhouse” aptly describing the isolation everyone experienced during the pandemic. Noe says of this song, “there’s no denying this album was made during a pandemic, so figured I’d open it up with the word ‘stranded.’ This song is about being stuck, being isolated, but making the most of it. It’s also an ode to the all the party houses I’ve frequented and making music.”

River Saints & Mountain Fools was recorded on reel-to-reel tapes in short spurts over the course of two years, without the pressure of time, which enabled a wider range of experimentations, collaborations, and sounds. As a result, it switches from rocking like Creedence Clearwater Revival to intoning like John Prine or Tom T. Hall; it swaggers with keys on songs like “Pine Grove (Madhouse),” bursts with French horn bombast “One More Night,” and swells with orchestrated strings on the gutting closing ballad, “Road May Flood/It’s A Heartache.”

The title of River Fools & Mountain Saints came to Noe before any of the songs, serving as a concept and a guiding principle. “That landscape and that geography of growing up in Lee County, Kentucky,” he begins, “I've got so much material I can write about, of stories of all these people and just life in general, growing up there. You think about the river? It's down here, it’s low. And then you got the mountains up high. You can go all over the place with that type of landscape, and that's how the writing starts.”

Noe indeed explores everywhere between the poles of the mountain and the river: from character studies on “Mountain Saint,” to honoring the Indigeous people of the region on “Burning Down The Prairie,” to the many veterans of his town on “POW Blues,” to the landscape and natural disasters beautifully depicted in “Appalachian Haze” and Road May Flood/It’s A Heartache,” which interpolates Bonnie Tyler’s classic 80’s love song.

To that end, musically, Noe looked to a wide array of influences for this record, from Bruce Springsteen, Neil Young, and John Prine to M.I.A. and Courtney Barnett . Noe cites Alabama Shakes’ self-titled debut and Margo Price’s records as sounds that led him to work with producer Andrija Tokic in Nashville. “The fact that I got to work with him is surreal to me after all these years later...romanticizing the sound he’s getting here and the name of the place — The Bomb Shelter,” he exudes. Noe also expanded his sound with the help of band members including "Little" Jack Lawrence (The Raconteurs) on bass and Derry deBorja (Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit) on keys.

Despite being written in quarantine and in the wake of natural disasters, River Fools and Mountain Saints remains a positive record. Noe maintains it’s about good moments growing up in a hard place. But most importantly, it’s about music as redemption, romanticism, and release.