Ian NoePhoto: Kyler ClarkThough Kentucky has always been a pioneer bastion for Country music — from Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass to Loretta Lynn’s Honky Tonk — within the last decade, Roots music has reinvigorated the state’s rich music scene.
Local figures such as Sturgill Simpson, Tyler Childers and Chris Stapleton, to name a few, have triggered a Roots renaissance south of the Ohio River. With his accomplished debut record — this year’s Between the Country — Ian Noe joins their ranks with his beguiling brand of gritty Appalachian Folk music.
Hailing from Beattyville, Kentucky — in the rural, eastern part of the state — Noe has lately been touring as the opener for major acts like Son Volt, Blackberry Smoke and his hero, John Prine. One of Nashville’s most in-demand producers, Dave Cobb, helmed Between the Country. With such a wealth of promise, Noe stands on the cusp of breaking out.
What distinguishes Noe from some of his peers is the dark, vernacular bent of his lyricism. Noe’s soul-damaged characters list their accrued wounds in excruciating detail. Think of John Prine’s classic “Sam Stone,” about a war vet junkie, but without the romanticism. Raw realism bleeds from definitive tracks like the fingerpicked “Junk Town” and the profane “Methhead,” where the drug epidemic eats up small Kentucky towns like some zombie plague.
Other key songs on the album, like the surging “Letter to Madeline” and the electric “Barbara’s Song,” deal with mythic tales of sepia-toned trains, bibles, bridge collapses and the Cumberland Gap, while found, recorded noises like the rushing of a stream and the rumbling of a train are interspersed between the tracks, providing a vérité feel. Everything about Between the Country — including the striking cover depicting a dead buck strewn across a snowy road — combines to create a visceral and evocative musical experience.
Noe has made some cool friends on his journey…
Ian Noe plays this Friday (Nov. 1) at Newport’s Southgate House Revival. Tickets/more info: southgatehouse.com.