Kentucky folk-rocker Ian Noe releases his second single “River Fool,” a buoyant portrait of a local Kentucky figure, from his anticipated sophomore album River Fools & Mountain Saints, a masterpiece of high-energy roadhouse rockers and Appalachian ballads set for release on March 25 via Thirty Tigers. Listen to “River Fool” and pre-order River Fools & Mountain Saints here: https://orcd.co/riverfools
“River Fool” teems with mandolin, banjo and fiddle to tell the tale of “a cult character in Southfork, Kentucky who enjoyed playing his guitar in the middle of any water he could find,” says Noe, who has been praised for his “homespun writing, which can convey a novel’s worth of narrative in very few words” (Rolling Stone). Noe sings about a devastating and deadly flood that swept through his hometown, his own grandfather’s death, and members of his community like a pot-dealing woman who lives at the foothills of the mountains or a local Vietnam vet who endured torture.
This local figure inspired half of the title of Noe’s forthcoming album, which in addition to delving into personal heartbreak and loss, chronicles local figures and oral histories of his hometown in Eastern Kentucky. On “River Fool,” he simultaneously brings to life and immortalizes a man that is a fixture in his region, “who spends his days in a muddy haze / tangled in the cattail poles / working on an ancient bottle.”
River Fools & Mountain Saints is the follow-up to Noe’s lauded Dave Cobb-produced debut Between The Country, praised by Rolling Stone as “an ode to the beauty of survival amidst bleakness” and NPR Music who praised its “heartbreaking brilliance.” But River Fools & Mountain Saints boasts a bigger sound and brighter tone, highlighting Noe’s storytelling prowess through 12 country rockers and Appalachian ballads.
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.
River Fools & Mountain Saints Track List
01. Pine Grove (Madhouse)
02. River Fool
03. Lonesome As It Gets
04. Strip Job Blues 1984
05. Tom Barrett
06. Ballad of a Retired Man
07. Mountain Saint
08. One More Night
09. POW Blues
10. Burning Down the Prairie
11. Appalachia Haze
12. Road May Flood
U.S. Tour Dates:
3/24 - Indianapolis, IN - The HI-FI
3/25 - Lexington, KY - The Burl
3/31 - Nashville, TN - The Basement East
4/1 - Athens, GA - The Lewis Room at Tweed Recording
4/8 - Birmingham, AL - Saturn
4/9 - Asheville, NC - The Grey Eagle
4/22 - Denver, CO - Globe Hall
4/23 - Salt Lake City, UT - The State Room
4/30 - Indio, CA - Stagecoach Music Festival