By Bryan RodgersJune 07, 2012
After a series of steadily evolving but largely similar albums with his own band, Ryan Montbleau found himself evolving. He wrote songs for Trombone Shorty and collaborated on tunes with Eric Krasno, and soon found himself headed to New Orleans to record an album with “musicians for hire” – some of the city’s most revered, at that. Montbleau is backed by nothing short of a dream group on For Higher
, a collection of markedly mature originals and obscure covers. Produced by Galactic’s Ben Ellman, who assembled the group, the album features Anders Osborne (guitar), George Porter Jr. (bass), Ivan Neville (keys), and Simon Lott (drums) – an elite group by any standard. One look at the lineup and there’s no doubt that there will be funk found throughout this record. The album’s real charm, though, is in its restrained playing and in Montbleau’s astoundingly expressive voice.
When a group of players such as this put their egos down and work for the greater groove and get the whole thing laid down in three days, the result is limitlessly satisfying. Lott’s impeccable drumming bursts through Neville and Porter’s cozy chaise of groove, and Osborne is the picture of subtlety. There are no bad tracks here, but things come to a particularly vigorous boil on left-behind nuggets like the slow-burning “Sweet Nice ‘N’ High,” Curtis Mayfield’s somber, swan-song-like “Here But I’m Gone,” and the greasily tuneful Bill Withers vamp “Heartbreak Road”. The same soulful ache inherent in the covers pervades Montbleau’s originals as well. “Away We Go” is dark-edged R&B reminiscent of Stevie Wonder in vocal phrasing, “Burning and Hiding” and “Head Above Water” is a wicked mix of blackwater guitar licks, snazzy horn lines, and thumping bass that simply screams “New Orleans”. Conversely, the heartfelt ballad “Just Perfect” and the sparse, honest “Full Grown Man” nod to Montbleau’s other band and solo sound. For Higher
is a complete package and a major revelation of Montbleau’s talent for anyone who hears it.