Ryan Dugré – Three Rivers: Album Review

Widescreen Imagery from Brooklyn guitar virtuoso Ryan Dugré

Release Date:  19th February 2021

Label: 11A records

Formats: Vinyl LP (limited run of 100 – from Ryan Dugré’s Bandcamp ) / Digital

Originally hailing from Holyoke, MA, Ryan Dugré is a Brooklyn-based freelance guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and composer.  He’s probably best known for his work as a sideman with Cass McCombs and Eleanor Friedberger; Three Rivers is his third solo venture and follows hot on the heels of last year’s highly acclaimed The Humors.

Ryan Dugré has already built something of a reputation for himself as a composer and performer of cinematic, sensitive music and several commentators have remarked on the suitability of much of his output for use as film scores.  Three Rivers is an instrumental album which features, primarily, Ryan’s guitar and piano, with subtle, often sparse backing from strings, pedal steel, drums and flugabone (don’t worry – I’ll explain shortly…) and the tunes are very much embedded in the jazz – cinematic – ambient genres favoured by the likes of Nils Frahm, Hiroshi Yoshimura and even Brian Eno, rather than being influenced by the folk/jazz leanings of the likes of John Fahey or Martin Taylor.

The tunes themselves were composed during January 2019 during what Ryan has described as song-a-day exercise.  During the period of the exercise, Ryan disciplined himself to produce a piece of music each day to build a routine of writing and creativity.  The only rule he applied was to submit a piece each day, whether it was an improvisation, a loose sketch or a fully orchestrated piece.  The submitted ideas were then methodically developed from guitar or piano rhythm patterns into full melodic arrangements, before being demoed in Ryan’s home studio and, finally, layed down at Trout Recording in Brooklyn with the help of the small group of guest musicians.

And those guest musicians have been wisely chosen.  Their contributions enhance, but never detract from, the core focus of the album which is, of course, Ryan’s virtuosity on guitar and piano.  Brett Lanier adds imaginative, never clichéd, pedal steel to most of the tracks and Ian McLellan Davis’s string arrangements (Ali Jones on cello, Thomas Martin on violin and Hannah Selin on viola) add a subtle richness.  Drums from Sean Mullins are used sparingly, but never without effect and Adam Dotson adds the final colouring with his flugabone – otherwise known as the marching trombone or baritone horn, a brass instrument with a similar pitch to a euphonium.

Three Rivers comprises twelve pieces of music that can either, and equally rewardingly, be the subject of deep listening or used to soundtrack a family event – in the latter case I would strongly recommend a lazy, quiet summer afternoon in the company of good friends and chilled wine…  The album kicks off with Living Language – initially a rather grandiose yet melancholy guitar and piano duet that gets slowly richer and other-worldly as, first, strings, and then pedal steel join in.  Old Hotel, already released as a single in January 2021, was apparently inspired by the Irish musician Eamon O’Leary, who had suggested a guitar tuning based on the Irish bouzouki.  The tune has a light, jazzy, Latin feel with percussion that perfectly supplements that impression and helps produce what is, perhaps, the most accessible tune on the album.

Foxglove, the album’s first single, is another tune inspired by the Irish bouzouki tuning and it’s another album highlight, with guest Eric Lane adding sparkly synth and Ryan’s fast, repetitive guitar lines underscored by some rich cello.  Powder Rains and Stalking Horse are both intimate, dreamy, highly atmospheric pieces with minimalist backing before we go widescreen with Shining, a co-composition between Ryan and Will Graefe, the album’s longest track and, possibly, its focal point.  It’s a spacious piece in which grows from an imposing piano intro as first strings and then electric guitar take the tune to its climax.  On an album packed with potential movie scores, Shing is, perhaps, the most “filmic” of the lot.

The title of Big Pictures Wide Open Spaces tempts the listener to prepare for yet another widescreen epic, so the classic jazz guitar that introduces the tune is a surprise – and not an unpleasant one.  This is another album highlight that, once again builds nicely as strings surge forward and the tune assumes the dreamlike qualities that are a common theme of the album.

For the latter part of the album, the rich string arrangements are abandoned and Other Minds, Wing, Lumima and In The Silence are all, principally, guitar/pedal steel duets.  The pedal steel is sublime on each of these tracks, particularly In The Silence, where the guitar/pedal steel combination reaches a peak of imagery and atmospherics.  Wing, a contemplative guitar/pedal steel piece is given a dramatic boost by Sean’s imaginative drum/percussion work.

Things are brought to a close with Glace Bay, another atmospheric piece and the current single.  It’s a tune inspired by Ryan’s family lineage – as he explains: “Over the past year, I have spent time looking through what records I could find about my ancestors.  It has always intrigued me to try to picture what their lives were like.  Hearing about the struggles and the relative poverty they endured puts things into perspective for me.  Glace Bay is where my great-grandfather was born.  It’s a coal-mining town on the eastern tip of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.  His father died in the mines in 1897 when my great-grandfather was three, leaving him as the eventual provider for the family.  This piece is named in his memory.  That’s an awful lot of memory to capture in a tune that is barely two minutes long, but Ryan manages it, and that, really, is the story of this album – a lot of memories, images and dreams packed into a collection of imaginative, creative and immaculately arranged pieces of music.

Listen to Ryan Dugré’s Glace Bay, from the current single from the album, here:

Ryan Dugré Online: Website/ Facebook/ Instagram

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