Brooklyn guitarist and composer Ryan Dugré works as a sideman with folks like Cass McCombs and Eleanor Friedberger, but his solo music is composed of cinematic, guitar-led instrumentals. The pieces feel intimate, warm and nostalgic but perhaps not what you are expecting if you’re thinking John Fahey or Leo Kottke or the like. It may read more like Erik Satie’s piano music with faint echoes of twentieth century classical in its contemporary folk approach. It’s not necessarily the kind of music this writer gravitates towards, but it is soothing and calming, and upon first listen after Trump’s last turbulent days, it calmed my raging mind.
Three Rivers is the follow up to last years The Humors, and expands on that record’s vision, with guest spots from some of Brooklyn’s most accomplished sidemen and session players. Written in January of 2019 during a song-a-day exercise, the instrumental pieces have shadowy undertones, melodically tending towards introspection. Guitar is at the forefront supported by piano and synth, strings, and sparse percussion. Elements of film music, pastoral jazz, and Americana create a meditative mood which is enhanced by the underlying pulse of each song. Using a barely functioning laptop and one microphone, Dugré embraced the limitations of this process. “My usual approach to writing is to methodically work out a solo guitar arrangement; melody, harmony, and bass all intertwined and performed simultaneously,” he says. “It takes a week or so to get it right.” This time, he started with a rhythm part on guitar or piano, and then added melody after. For many of the pieces he imagined someone singing the melody and tried to get close to creating that with slide guitar, piano, or synth.
Dugré came away with a batch of new song ideas and spent the following months finishing the arrangements at his home studio. These songs were then re-recorded in October 2019 in Brooklyn at Trout Recording with engineer Adam Sachs, featuring string arrangements from Ian McLellan Davis (Relatives), and contributions from Brett Lanier (The Barr Brothers), Sean Mullins (Wilder Maker), Adam Dotson (Slavic Soul Party), and Will Graefe (Okkervil River, Star Rover), who co-wrote Shining. The album was mixed by Leo Abrahams (Brian Eno, Sam Amidon).
To gain further insight to his approach, he offers commentary on the three singles: “Foxglove” – “I started writing “Foxglove” after I bought an old Harmony tenor guitar (four strings). For this song, it’s tuned like an Irish bouzouki. It’s a recurring theme for me, I like to play instruments that I’m less familiar with when writing. Something about not knowing the chord shapes and notes frees up my ear and mind. Less thinking usually leads to a more intuitive approach. I started with a chord progression and then added a melody with a midi keyboard later. Ian McLellan Davis wrote and arranged the strings, adding new movement and color to the song.” “Old Hotel” – “The inspiration and title for “Old Hotel” came from the great Irish musician Eamon O’Leary. He told me about a guitar tuning that combined Irish bouzouki tuning with two additional notes (C F C G C D). This opened up some new shapes and chords. The first thing I wrote was the ending, then later came up with a more rhythm-based guitar part which makes up the backbone of the song. I played the melody on a midi keyboard, and Ian McLellan Davis again added strings.” “Glace Bay“: “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 their struggles and the relative poverty they endured puts things into perspective for me. Glace Bay is where my great-grandfather Edward Macmillan 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 he was three, leaving him as the eventual provider of the family. This piece is named in his memory.’
This is perfect Sunday morning album to put on when perusing the paper or sipping coffee and serves just as well as a nightcap to ease your tensed mind before ending your day. It’s colorful and is a perfect recipe for introspection.
Written and performed by Ryan Dugré, with:
Brett Lanier – pedal steel guitar
Ian McLellan Davis – string arrangements
Ali Jones – cello
Thomas Martin – violin
Hannah Selin – viola
Sean Mullins – drums
Eric Lane – synth on “Foxglove”
Adam Dotson – flugabone
Will Graefe – co-wrote “Shining”