The Kennedy Center

The Riverbreaks


From Central America to the American South, The Riverbreaks of Washington, DC, is an Americana band in more ways than one. The band’s singer Ryan Bailey was raised in Nashville and came of musical age in Chapel Hill, NC, but wrote much of Wildfire in the Costa Rican jungle. He emerged with the songs for Wildfire, an album that sonically combines the best of Americana and indie rock with folk and country influences, but lyrically covers a lot of ground, spanning themes of youth, heartbreak, the Latin American drug war, the marginalization of indigenous groups, and nature.

The album was produced by Chris Stamey, who is a critically acclaimed member of the dB’s and producer of bands including Whiskeytown, Lost in the Trees, Megafaun, The Rosebuds, Le Tigre, and Alejandro Escovedo. Working with Stamey seemed natural to The Riverbreaks, as members Ryan Bailey (vocals), Jesse Prentice-Dunn (electric guitar), Neela Rajendra (violin), Andrew Satten (keyboard), and Drew Ball (bass) formerly lived in and around Chapel Hill, NC, where Stamey’s studio is located. As they delved into the music scene there, all roads led back to Chris as a musician, songwriter and producer. Special guests on the album include Caitlin Cary (Whiskeytown, Tres Chicas), Mitch Easter (Lets Active, REM producer) and Logan Matheny (Roman Candle – a major influence on The Riverbreaks), among others.

Wildfire is the second album for The Riverbreaks. The band released its debut album Get You Right in spring 2011, and shortly thereafter began working on Wildfire, which it recorded in the spring and summer of 2012. It is a rich album, full of songs with a strong narrative. “Some of the lyrics took shape when I started thinking about the parallels in the southern US and South America – in both places indigenous groups have been marginalized and there are similar agricultural, natural and spiritual elements,” Bailey commented.

“Wild Fruit” (the subject of their upcoming video)—is a violin-driven song referencing the Ayoreo people and the destruction of their land. There are also songs with roots deep in the American south. “American Sun” is a highlight: a rollicking organ riff dances through this tune about youth, love and loss, featuring a soaring Caitlin Cary harmony. “Paper Moon,” a late addition, was recorded in one take; it combines a crooning vocal and haunting reverb-drenched guitar. “Tell the Girls” is a straight up dance number, building from solo acoustic guitar to a stomping chorus with an indelible hook.

The Riverbreaks prove that while there is no place like home, sometimes an exotic locale lends depth and dimension to songs with deeply personal references. Their combination of gorgeous Americana and indie rock makes Wildfire unforgettable.

The Riverbreaks