Ian Noe Previews New Album 'River Saints and Mountain Fools' - Rolling Stone
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Ian Noe Descends into Isolated Madness on New Song ‘Pine Grove (Mad House)’

Track appears on the Kentucky songwriter’s upcoming album ‘River Fools & Mountain Saints’

For Ian Noe, it all started with a title. Two years ago, not long after releasing his stunning debut Between the Country, the Kentucky singer-songwriter was stumbling around in search of a creative direction when a phrase came to him: River Fools & Mountain Saints. In an instant, he knew how he’d be structuring his yet-to-be-written collection of songs.

“That title did absolutely everything to me, it was the fuel,” the 31-year-old Noe tells Rolling Stone. “I [realized] I could split up two sides of the record. It was the same concept as Between the Country, which was literally everything between all the places I’ve lived. But it’s a more updated version, and it was broader.”

Set for release on March 25th on Thirty Tigers, River Fools & Mountain Saints is both an expansion and a deepening of the hard-nosed storytelling he introduced on his first LP. Unlike the pitch-black balladry that defined Between the Country, Noe was intent on including at least a few halfway-cheerful tunes this time around. Roadhouse country-rockers like lead single “Pine Grove (Mad House)” and “Burning Down the Prairie” exist alongside wistful down-tempo narratives like “Lonesome As It Gets” and “Ballad of a Retired Man.” The latter is Noe’s clearest homage to date to his hero John Prine. 

“River Fool,” the first song he wrote after conjuring the title, is based on the Memorial Day weekend rituals of Noe’s friends, who spent each holiday break fishing and partying, while the character in “Mountain Saint” is a weed grower high in the Appalachian hills. “It’s just basically whatever can go on within that [geographic] section,” Noe says of the title. 

The songs on River Fools & Mountain Saints are, once again, set almost entirely in Noe’s native Kentucky and are anchored by his homespun writing, which can convey a novel’s worth of narrative in very few words: “I used to have a Christian wife,” he sings on the track “Road May Flood/It’s a Heartache,” “I lost her like a pocketknife.”

“Road May Flood” is a prime example of the expanding influences and tones that imbue Noe’s latest. Before starting as a typically sparse acoustic lament, the song evolves into a countrypolitan nod to Bonnie Tyler’s 1978 hit “It’s a Heartache,” adapting its melody and ending with a verse of the Tyler classic. Elsewhere, Noe, who says he’s just as influenced by album-oriented artists like Wussy and Courtney Barnett as his more obvious Neil Young and Van Morrison touchstones, takes specific cues from another one of his audio sampling heroes, M.I.A., by sprinkling in snippets of Muhammad Ali and Sixties television shows into “Ballad of a Retired Man.”

“Pine Grove (Mad House),” meanwhile, is a nod to the fact that Noe completed and recorded the album during a pandemic. “I wanted to start the record off with the words ‘stranded inside a madhouse,’ just like we all were for the longest time,” he says.

Noe is a serious student of classic songwriting and has been since he was a kid. At his fifth-grade graduation ceremony, he sang Young’s “Long May You Run” for his class, attempted to write pretentious “Desolation Row”-inspired songs as a teenager, and spent much of high school memorizing the tracklisting to Moondance

Having studied his heroes for as long as he has, Noe understands the power of songs like CCR’s “Fortunate Son” and Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” anthems whose messages are often secondary to their indelible melodies (Noe will soon be releasing a plaintive version of the latter tune). He aspires to writing similar songs — bleak and brutal narratives that are disguised within an irresistible melody. 

“You don’t have to think about the song if you don’t want to,” Noe says, “because the melody’s there.” 

In This Article: album announcement, ian noe


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