Coloring Outside The Lines
A Review of Dean & Riley - Clouds Roll By EP

By Eric Waier

Dean & Riley are Kyle Dean & Amelia Riley Thornton, an unlikely duo that have mashed up their own personal styles into something unique of its own. On Friday, the duo release their first effort “Clouds Go By” with a release party on the outside deck of the Great Northern Bar from 6-9 PM.

Amelia (Riley) is a classically trained violinist who has a Masters of Music in Violin Performance from Ohio University.  She is also a bluegrass fiddler and vocal recording artist and served as the Front of House Coordinator for this year’s Crown of the Continent Guitar Festival.

Kyle (Dean) is a guitarist for who played in rock bands during his time at the University of Illinois where he earned a degree in Kinesiology. Also a writer, Kyle wrote for magazines, newspapers, and his own short stories but never tried his hand at music until recently. You wouldn’t know it with the way he pours his heart into the lyrics.  When I spoke with Kyle when he came to the station to drop of their EP he told me he approached the writing process in a deeply personal way and would write by going to “hide in a corner.” Later Kyle and Amelia meet up to compare lyrics and come up with something that speaks for them both.

A child of Montana, Amelia grew up in Kalispell which seems to be a large influence on Dean & Riley’s sound. The unpredictable nature of Montana weather shows up in the lyrics for “Seven Miles” with Amelia joining Kyle in the chorus proclaiming “Clouds roll up, up so high it seems like nothing ever brings them down. But what comes up must go down. Even clouds crash to the ground. The rain let up, the sun came out, and blue skies are all that you find.”  The lyrics conjure up the vivid scenery of Montana weather and compare it our own ever changing and sometimes unpredictable emotional state.

Kyle moved to Montana about 7 years ago after a friend lured him to the Whitefish. He didn’t start singing until Christian Johnson, of Mission Mountain Wood Band fame, heard Kyle during a lesson and encouraged him to further pursue singing. Recently Kyle has received some help in the singing department from local singer/songwriter Eric Krop.

“Clouds Roll By” colors outside the lines in many great ways. To illustrate the genre bending on this album, let’s talk about Fiddle’s and Violins. Did you know they are the same instrument just played differently? Well, OK smarty-pants, I didn’t.  The fiddle “genre” is associated with folksy and bluegrass sounds with the violin “genre” being associated with a more classical sounds. There CAN be small differences to the instrument, however they are mostly personal choices.

Amelia masterfully mixes in the sounds of violin and fiddle, sometimes in the same song, with the song “New Zealand” being a prime example where both styles are used. Perhaps I’m mistaken; I am, after all, not a classical trained violinist. However Amelia should be able to set me straight when Dean & Riley join us in the studio for their interview tomorrow, Friday 9/17, at 10AM.

Dean & Riley worked with Brett Allen at Snowghost Studios, a local studio located in the foothills of Big Mountain, to record “Clouds Go By.” Kyle told me how comfortable the recording process was at Snowghost studios where the frustration of recording can be relieved by a quick break and taking in the perspective giving views of the Flathead Valley that the studios location offers.

“Clouds Roll By” is a six song EP that immediately puts a smile on your face starting with its first song, “Blue Tic Hound,” a true country love song with a traditional feel to it. Amelia even slyly rolls the lyric “hound” into a howl in one part of the song. This song is all smiles.

The EP continues with the “The Osprey,” an instrumental track featuring Amelia on fiddle (I think I got that one right!). It starts off slow and builds into a danceable bluegrass tune with Kyle backing on guitar, but the star is Amelia who absolutely “shreds” the fiddle (is that a thing?).

We’ve already talked about “Seven Miles,” but it’s my favorite track on “Clouds Roll By.” It’s a somewhat melancholy song with well thought out and clever lyrics that really captures the Montana experience. Dean & Riley are joined by pianist, Keaton Wilson, who adds depth to “Seven Miles.”

When I saw Dean & Riley at a recent music festival, Amelia talked a little about the song “New Zealand,” saying while Montana is wondrous & beautiful, that well, New Zealand was just something else. Clearly she was smitten.  The instrumental track lets both Amelia and Kyle shine with their instruments with music expressing what words cannot. These are the songs where you just close your eyes and let the artists take you on a journey.  You can almost feel the breeze in your hair as you listen to “New Zealand.”

The second to last song “By Myself” is a soft love song that talks about incompleteness and vulnerability without the love of someone else to share it with.  The EP ends with “Pitamakan” which spotlights the guitar skills of Kyle and is peaceful punctuation to “Clouds Roll By.”

Personally, I love musicians that push the boundaries and don’t color inside genre lines. Genres are so 20th century and an ancient invention of record labels trying to control what becomes popular (that’s a subject for another article). If you have to put a label on their sound, Dean & Riley do it best with a description from their website.

Dean & Riley is folk music in its humanity. It’s country in instrumentation. It’s classical in its musicianship. It’s rock-and-roll in its boldness. You haven’t heard pop like this before.
— www.deanandriley.com

Perfect.

“Clouds Roll By” is the perfect length, at 27 minutes, for anyone making the daily commute between Whitefish and Kalispell and would be a great way to start out or end your day; full of hope and happiness.

“Clouds Roll By” will be available on iTunes on Friday 9/18 and you can grab a physical copy of their album at their CD release party this Friday from 6PM-9PM on the outside deck of the Great Northern. Dean & Riley will also be joined by the Captain Wilson Conspiracy, a jazz trio out of Missoula.