Exclusive First Listen: Ryan Montbleau Channels Bill Withers on ‘Heartbreak Road’

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Courtesy Ryan Laurey

It’s safe to say that Ryan Montbleau’s most devoted fans first saw him live. Over the span of the last 10 years, the Ryan Montbleau Band has continued to refine and enhance its sound while out on the road, adding new hits to the repertoire while opening for such acts as Ani DiFranco, Rodrigo y Gabriela, and Martin Sexton. In the process of touring upwards of 200 nights a year, they have attracted a loyal following — not only in Boston, where Montbleau launched his career as a singer-songwriter at local folk venues and coffee shops, but with fans of soul, blues and rock nation.

(More: The 100 Greatest Songs of All-TIME)

Their newest record, For Higher, hits stores May 15, and it promises a new sound and direction for the group. Heading south to collaborate, the band threw themselves into the music scene of New Orleans, infusing their singer-songwriter aesthetic with a healthy dose of soul-inspired horns. And the record also features a handful of cover songs that emerged spontaneously from their immersion in the Big Easy.

One such cut is Montbleau’s rather faithful tribute to Bill Withers’ “Heartbreak Road,” which the band was kind enough to reveal exclusively via TIME:

Layering in a floating electric guitar atop Withers’ original aesthetic of electric piano and syncopated cymbals, Montbleau matches the original’s toe-tapping rhythm move for move. Compare it to the original:


Ryan Montbleau’s new Southern-fried, funkified sound arrives to stores in May. Watch for more new tracks to be released soon.

As for now, cast your vote in the comments below: Which version of “Heartbreak Road” do you prefer?

Steven James Snyder is a Senior Editor at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @thesnydes. You can also continue the discussion @TIME, on TIME’s Facebook page and on TIME’s Tumblr.