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Between The Country by Ian Noe - Album Review

A recent discovery for me, and another contender for album of the year. Unlike some of the other music that has blown me away this year, there is nothing unexpected here. Simply songs that sound timeless, as if they were just lying around waiting to found in an old Appalachian wood shack. From pure folk country, via Jayhawks and Jason Isbell-style driving Americana to Johnny Cash inspired tales of pain and failure, the standard is high. No new boundaries are being breached but Noe has a superb voice for this style of music and as I've already mentioned the songs could be from any time in the last sixty years.

Starting with just voice and guitar on "Irene (Ravin' Bomb) we are left in no doubt as to the territory we are entering. 
"Barbara' Song" after starting with the actual sound of a train takes echoes of the Jayhawk's "Tailspin" into a bleak tale of tragedy.

The misery continues in the beautiful but sad "Junk Town" before the song that led me to this album, "Letter To Madeline". The story of a doomed robbery and an unsent letter of love adds in some Neil Young style lead guitar to a song that Johnny Cash or The Band could have recorded.
Throughout the rest of the album, the mood doesn't lift much, but if like me you find sad songs the best, then your spirits certainly will. 

"Loving You", "That Kind Of Life" and "Dead On The River (Rolling Down)" continue with what I think embodies the whole album; a solid and authentic country feel that is miles removed from the polished soft rock that makes up a lot of mainstream country these days. "Dead On The River" in particular has a lovely laid back minor key groove that you could listen to for hours even if the lyrics continue the tales of woe. 
Another story song, this time with a hint of hope that the title doesn't give away,  "If Today Doesn't Do Me In", before more echoes of Neil Young in the music of "Meth Head". It just keeps cycling around on itself building with a dread that suits the, again bleak, subject matter. Along with "Letter To Madeline" it is my other favourite track on the album.
The album closes with the title track, and if you were hoping for an uplifting coda then you will be disappointed. 

What won't disappoint you is the consistently high standard of songwriting and performance to be found here. I can't recommend this album highly enough and if the Kentuckian can keep up this level of quality I imagine he has a long career ahead.

"Just set me up a stone on that high hillside........."

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