Ryan Montbleau’s latest album, I Was Just Leaving, is a stripped-down journey into the nature of loneliness. Directly off the heels of the astronomical success of his cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” which has clocked in over 15 million plays on Spotify as of the writing of this review, I Was Just Leaving operates in the same vein of profound simplicity. This solo offering marks a departure from some of Montbleau’s funkier work, providing listeners with a clear lens through which to experience his inspired songwriting. The album was produced by Anders Osborne, who took a decidedly minimalist approach. This sensible approach to the album cements the theme of loneliness, as most of the tracks sound as if they were recorded in a bare-walled room with a deeply scuffed wooden floor, just Montbleau and a guitar.
The title track, “I Was Just Leaving,” is an appropriate start to the album, the thumping, muted strum of the acoustic guitar punctuating lyrics that drip with regret. Montbleau’s songwriting chops are put on display as he describes the empty discomfort of wondering how one’s actions have led to the end of a love affair. “Bright Side” echoes the theme of loneliness, discussing the search for meaning and happiness in a drab and unwelcoming world. The tone of the song becomes increasingly upbeat as it progresses, the tempo of the guitar picking up to match the lyrics as Montbleau explores how the positive influence of another person can facilitate the journey from darkness into light.
“Moving Too Fast” is another highlight of the album, and Montbleau’s voice is truly incredible on this track. Clear and self-assured, he discusses transcending the monotony of daily life and laments the disorienting feelings humans experience in the face of the ever-quickening passage of the years. “Abigail” injects some welcome energy into the album, a bluesy guitar line dancing behind the vocals. The end of the song soars to an emotional climax, and one wonders if the entire record has built up to this point. “Cue the Majesty” provides a fitting ending to the album, as Montbleau extolls finding meaning in the beautiful simplicity of daily life.
I Was Just Leaving feels like a cohesive piece of music rather than a collection of tracks, and this is where its strength lies. The uniform rawness of the album achieves the desired effect, entrancing the listener to enter Montbleau’s mental state as he ponders the nature of solitude.