The first time I saw Ian Noe, he was opening for Colter Wall in London UK. I got there early, hoping to get nice and close to stage to see Colter do his thing. Noe came on stage, unaccompanied. I admit, I had been still talking to darling girl when he announced his name after the first song or too. But by the time Noe started playing “Letter to Madeleine” I was hooked. Noe so effortlessly sings his songs of desperate small town characters, that no matter where you might be, you stop what you’re doing. Sadly, I asked the guy next to me if he caught the name of Colter’s opening act – “just some guy from Kentucky, I don’t know.”
Months later, I’m reading a review of Noe’s Between the Country. As soon I saw the track list mention “Madeline” I knew that finally I stumbled across that guy from Kentucky. What I didn’t know was that Between the Country, after only a listen, would become my favourite record of 2019. Comparisons are rarely appropriate, but for me I can’t not hear the ghost of a little Townes van Zandt whenever I hear Noe. His songs are full of imagery so rich you’re never in the place you’re listening to the songs. You’re always with his characters, wind-swept, sun-down, down on your luck. So it was in London about a year ago; so it was in Manhattan on October 3rd.
Rockwood Music Hall is not the biggest room, but people were fighting for air and sight-lines to see the show. Noe’s performance of the songs ups the hopelessness of his characters, with a little more snarl in the vocals than is found on Between the Country. The guitars a little louder, and the slide a little meaner, his stories feel more urgent than plaintive when played live. “Junk Town,” “Dead on the River (Rolling Down)” and “Meth Head” take you to Kentucky and beg that you pay attention to the characters at the periphery. Not a word was spoken from the audience that night. Only applause.
Noe’s future looks bright. And I hope he’s right, when he sings on “the Last Stampede” (which we can only pray that it ends up on his next record) that “through all sorrow, god will follow—but you ain’t seen nothing yet.” Noe’s best is yet to come.