Ian Noe has a voice that belies his thirty-one years. It’s one that is strong yet weary, with a natural and easy beauty, not unlike the coal hills of Noe’s native Eastern Kentucky. “Sometimes where I come from gets painted with a really harsh brush that I completely don’t agree with,” he says from his home in Bowling Green. “It’s such a musically rich place. From the time I could hold a guitar, I was holding a guitar, and my whole family played. And it’s just a beautiful place. It’s heaven to me.”
The Bluegrass State and its people—both historic and contemporary—are at the core of Noe’s forthcoming sophomore album, River Fools and Mountain Saints. It was a title that came to him long before the songs arrived, one informed both by the hardscrabble yet stunning landscape he was immersed in growing up in Lee County, Kentucky, and by a devastating flood that hit the southeastern part of the state in 2020. He spent the next two years writing and recording the album, crafting a collection of songs that embody the struggles and the resilience of the people of his home.
“I had the title, and that gave me a pretty large canvas to find the songs that fit within the concept,” he says of the album’s evolution. As the tracks came together, Noe decided to split the record in two, with his stories of River Fools, character studies of those living in his conceptual lowland, becoming Side A, and the Mountain Saints from the hills above them on Side B. Much like John Prine, to whom he has sometimes been compared, Noe writes not only about members of his community but also from their perspectives, ranging from that of a grizzled combat veteran in “Tom Barrett” to the region’s indigenous people in the album’s first single, “Burning Down the Prairie,” which Garden & Gun is proud to premiere below.
In the song, a muffled bass drum thumps below Noe’s fingerpicked electric guitar, his voice burrowing into the liminal spaces between both, telling a story of a people losing their land. Then, like a heavenly deluge, a raucous guitar solo takes over, pouring onto the valleys Noe and his band have created before settling back into the groove.
Watch the video below, which features Noe and his band in a series of tight shots, adding to the song’s tension and foreboding spirit. River Fools and Mountain Saints is out March 25 and available for preorder here.