Ryan Montbleau is one of those tireless musicians that can be counted on to release an album every couple of years and then show up on assorted stages both in the company of his band or simply playing solo. While he’s the kind of performer who’s likely to evoke numerous comparisons to other artists that take a similar stance, he’s also distinctive enough to carve a template all his own. He writes from a knowing point of view, touching on the usual topics — romance, relationships, passion and purpose – but more often than not his lyrics also reference the most unlikely scenarios, whether it’s a road trip with his mother-in-law, an homage to Prince and Purple Rain or an endless wait at the doctor’s office. Regardless, he offers the suspicion that these set-ups aren’t meant to be interpreted in the literal sense, further affirming the starry-eyed nature of his compositions.
After a decade of touring together, Growing Light becomes the Ryan Montbleau band’s swan song, a fact attested to in the liner notes. If indeed that is the case, they’re exiting on what’s arguably their greatest work to date. Montbleau and his colleagues — Jason Cohen (piano, organ, clavinet, Moog synthesizer), James Cohen (drums), Matt Giannaros (bass and vocals), Yahuba (percussion and vocals) and recent recruit Lyle Brewer (guitar) — might be forgiven for wanting to take a breather, especially in the light of the fact that they’re known to play up to 200 gigs a year. Still, it’s a shame that having achieved such a largely accessible sound they’ve opted to call it quits. Few outfits seem so well suited for prime time exposure.
That’s not to say they don’t throw the occasional curve ball. Opening track “Glowing Light” sets a melancholy mood, all atmospheric ambiance with the emphasis on shifting tones and textures. Strangely however, it’s the only example of that sort of cerebral soundscape. “Loving Thing” bounces along with a playful punchiness that brings to mind John Mayer at his giddiest and most carefree. Mostly though, Montbleau tends to steer himself towards an easy, breezy sensibility that leans on jazzier inflections, kind of like a latter day Michael Franks with the same knowing approach. It’s the kind of thing that once dominated adult contemporary radio, when program directors were still eyeing the top forty. It’s a bit flighty and slightly suggestive, just the kind of thing you’d like to hear the local bar band strike up on a balmy summer evening while passing the time in your favorite bar or watering hole.
Regardless, when the album reaches its final coda, a simple solo acoustic tune entitled “Together”, it leaves a sense of bittersweet remorse, suggesting perhaps that for all the carefree indulgence that preceded it, there are still sentiments left unsaid. Maybe it refers to the fact that as far as the band is concerned, it’s the end of an era. Or maybe it’s insinuating that relief and satisfaction sometimes seem just beyond one’s grasp. Whatever the reason, it’s a somewhat sobering conclusion to a mostly upbeat album. It simply proves that no matter luminescent life might seem, that light can flicker as much as it glows.