Ian Noe’s new album Between the Country is a masterful piece of work. Every lyric, phrase of the guitar, and every bit of emotionally delivered line is quite simply, perfect. If one had the ability to plan one’s career from 30 years down the road, this would be the first album that you’d make to start off a lifetime of songwriting.
The album was recorded in Nashville’s RCA Studio A with producer Dave Cobb whose work with the likes of Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and Jason Isbell, to name a few, has either earned him nominations or won him AMA, Grammy, or Music Row awards in a variety of categories. Dave also plays guitar on the album that additionally features Adam Gardner on bass and organ piano, Chris Powell on drums and percussion, and Savannah Conley, who absolutely adds gold on back up vocals to each song she appears on. It will be out on the Thirty Tigers label and rounds out a great combination of musicians and record label to push Ian into the next level of his musical career, which I believe this masterpiece will do.
In the same way Norman Rockwell used his paintbrush to create his 1942 painting of the perfect family diner, Ian paints a similar, modern image with his songwriting for “Irene”. I’m hesitant to call it the dysfunctional version of Rockwell’s “Freedon from Want” because Ian’s version seems more like the new traditional family. Many of the themes Ian uses may be prevalent in his home state of Kentucky, but even in rural Iowa, we all share similar experiences and struggles.
“Barbera’s Song” sounds like it could have been pulled from a b side of a Byrd’s album with lyrics written on the porch of Big Pink in Woodstock. It’s the only song on the album that strikes me as different from the rest but, wonderfully done. It tells the story of a 1904 train crash that puts you right inside the tragic wreck but with an infectious melody that you just can’t get out of your head.
Much is spotlighted about Ian’s inclusion of the rampant drug problems that reach into every corner of the country, but his ability to reach into the humanity of the drug issue is striking. In “Junk Town” he narrates from the inside as the “Meth Head” that struggles to “keep away those cold sweat fears” while realizing “…I wish I was leaving to find another fate, and all the while knowing where I’ll die.”
“Meth Head” takes a harder outside narrative approach, and may be using those same characters from “Junk Town”, to tell the story from a different approach. It paints the epidemic like a zombie movie with lines like “you can’t kill her she’s already dead” and the third verse that says “It’ll be dark pretty soon. They love to lurk by the moon. So I’m out back shoveling the dirt. I’m gonna dig me a hole as deep as I can go. And when they fall, I’m gonna cover em up.”
Ian does a fantastic job of switching his narrative from modern lyrics and settings to the frontier, gun fights, fighting against the elements, and nods at true love. It’s as earthly and real as a diary lifted from a covered stage coach while maintaining the relevancy of the local news. For a guy on the cusp of 30 trips around the sun, Ian has a gift for writing, and an ability to paint a picture that lands him among any of the songwriting legends that you may want to compare him with.
“Letter to Madeline”, “Loving You,” the title track “Between the Country,” and the powerful “Dead on the River (Rolling Down)” are deliberately paced and somber while “That Kind of Life” and “If Today Doesn’t Do Me In” have a slight up tempo, positive, feel. Ian’s style of writing and delivery make it difficult to explain because the sincerity of each line, no matter the subject of the song, touch you and haunt you long after the last notes are played. I can only suggest that you grab it and settle in to realize that there was music before Between the Country, but, how much of it you go back to after hearing these 10 tracks may surprise you.
I had the pleasure of having heard most, if not all, of these songs when I caught Ian live with Colter Wall in the winter of 2018. His performance that night in the Codfish Hollow barn, and his 2017 EP Off This Mountaintop (which included both “Irene” and “Meth Head”) was a good fix until now, but I’m glad for his fans that the full album is out March 31st. Get out to see Ian Noe perform live and grab the new album to help support an amazing artist with a true fix on legendary status. www.iannoe.com