Brooklyn guitarist Ryan Dugré did an exercise in which he wrote a song a day in January 2019, as a way to move himself out of his usual songwriting comfort zone. The idea was to just get something down, an improvisation, a loose sketch, or even a fully orchestrated piece. He came away with a bunch of ideas that became his sophomore solo release Three Rivers, after he reworked them for a few months and then recorded them at a Brooklyn studio with a bunch of talented local musicians.
It’s a beautifully played and (mostly) comforting collection of minimalist and soundtrack-type pieces. They’re largely centered around intricate rhythm tracks laid down by Dugré on acoustic guitar and occasional piano, with melodies and accents played by his friends and guests on pedal steel guitar, a string quartet, synthesizers and percussion.
Dugré and 11A Records have teased the album with three singles starting in December 2020 with the highly cinematic “Foxglove.” It starts with a sunny melodic foundation laid on the tenor guitar, to which are added a happily burbling midi synth and galumphing percussion. It morphs in the coda into a soaring, questing string quartet behind Dugré’s intricate plucked guitar line, basically reprising the opening section in a faster tempo and possibly a different key. He says the tenor guitar was a new instrument to him, and was “tuned like an Irish bouzouki,” for what that’s worth – the point being to force himself out of old habits with unfamiliar instruments and tunings.
The second single “Old Hotel” has a Brazilian style rhythmic bed played by Dugré on guitar, which belies the tune’s origins in traditional Irish tunings and chord progressions. In addition to the guitar it has deep bass percussion and a minimal melodic line on midi keyboard plus that string section. I’ve been calling it a quartet, but it’s made up of Ali Jones on cello, Thomas Martin on violin and Hannah Selin on viola, with Dugré generally providing the bass line on guitar or keys. That violin-viola-cello combo provides a lovely warm sound that is one of the key features of this recording. The string parts are arranged by Ian McLellan Davis.
The final single is the album closer, the shimmering pastoral tune “Glace Bay,” which is dedicated to Dugré’s great-grandfather, whose own father died in the mines near Glace Bay on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island.
The 12-track album pivots around track 6 “Shining.” It’s complex and layered, and one of the longer and more fully realized works on this album of mostly short pieces. Co-written by Dugré with Will Graefe, it opens with Ryan on piano, which is shortly joined by what I think is pedal steel or perhaps electric guitar, which plays in unison with the piano and is eventually joined by the string section. If this is shining, it’s shining darkly.
The pedal steel by Brett Lanier adds a lot of color to every track it’s on, including the opener “Living Language,” with Dugré playing languid fingerpicked patterns behind the melodic line on pedal steel and piano; the penultimate track “In The Silence,” which is just guitar and pedal steel; and the intriguing “Wing.” This one starts out as a solo guitar piece, then about halfway through there’s a booming, clattering percussion and pedal steel interlude, which eases back into a solo guitar coda.
Dugre keeps busy playing his own music and as a freelancer with many others including active freelancer, having performed and/or recorded with Rubblebucket, Joan Wasser, Eleanor Friedberger, Cass McCombs, Landlady, Jesse Harris, Ran Blake and others. This is his third solo release. More information at his website, Facebook and elsewhere.
(11A Records, 2021)