Posted by Dale Obbie
On Sept. 23, the Ryan Montbleau Band returned to Putnam Den, filling the venue with its faithful fans. The band members have played at this venue a handful of times over the past few years, so the full house was not a surprise. Their last show in Saratoga Springs was in late April. Montbleau—on top of a stool and grinning with his acoustic guitar under his arm— radiated just as much warmth as he did last spring.
But this time around the band featured its new lead guitarist, Lyle Brewer, who joined last spring, replacing longtime viola player Laurence Scudder. Since then, the band's music has taken on a slightly different character, leaning more toward rock and funk than the rootsy Americana that showcased Scudder's viola playing so well.
But it's hard to pigeonhole Montbleau's music—he embraces styles ranging from jangly Delta blues to reggae. For the most part, his music bounces back and forth between feel-good folksiness and foot-stomping funk, and sometimes it lands somewhere in between the two. But no matter what you want to call it, it's always soulful.
Unsurprisingly, Montbleau drew from a variety of genres, beginning with the song "Inspired by No One", which featured a bouncy solo from organist Jason Cohen accompanied by Montbleau's funky acoustic guitar chords. Bassist Matt Giannaros plunked a head-bobbing riff on his sleek electric upright bass, giving the song the playful vibe of a Jackson 5 song. The soul-tinged popiness of it then gave way to a danceable Americana swing that verged on bluegrass.
The next song was equally lively and sounded like a fusion of funk and rock, thanks to Brewer's gritty guitar playing. This gave way to "Songbird," a thumping reggae tune that brought the crowd closer to the stage. Giannaros switched to his bass guitar, shaking the building with its low notes, while Montbleau's cheerfully lilting voice made the song's title seem appropriate.
Having gained the crowd's attention, Montbleau sang a few folk songs to his rapt audience, accompanied by no more than his own acoustic guitar. He seemed to be just as confident alone on stage as he was with the support of his band and, despite the bluesiness of his songs, he still gave off the same joyful aura.
After returning with beers, Montbleau's band mates jumped into some full-force funk. Ryan set his guitar down, stood up and belted out some far-reaching vocals, sounding more like a '70s soul singer than a young singer-songwriter.
Montbleau brought something for everybody that night, from the people up front dancing to the irresistibly funky bass lines, to those in the back of the crowd, bobbing their heads quietly to his contemplative folk songs. Hopefully he will return soon and once again spread his love for all types of music.