Briskly galloping out of the gate, the title track of Ryan Shupe’s self-released eighth album, We Rode On, announces the former country-chart-topper’s transition to alternative artist. This collection is bright clangoring pop-rock, focused on moving forward, but it’s grounded in the building blocks of Shupe’s bluegrass past—his earnest everyman vocals and virtuosic mastery of mandolin, banjo, fiddle, and nimble acoustic guitar. (Shupe plays most of the instruments on this self-produced set.)
On “Dream Big,” a stately, soaring update of Shupe’s Billboard Top 40 country hit from 2005, his tumbling, ringing Taylor underpins accumulating layers of piano, bass, and drums. His plangent picking cascades through shimmering mandolin glissandos to kick off the upbeat, alliterative shuffle “This Love,” while gossamer sheets of strummed acoustics, including Shupe’s Guild, blanket the percolating bossa nova beat of “Hey Girl.”
Elsewhere, Shupe’s Taylor braids through the drums-and-mandolin canter of “Feel the Same” before taking center stage with a silvery, cut-crystal lead.
Just as climbing melodies and can-do lyrics threaten to overwhelm We Rode On, like an over-eager life coach, Shupe provides emotional ballast with the yearning “Take Me Home,” where his circular waterwheel acoustic entwines with buckling banjo in a reflective ode to hearth and family. Likewise, urgent strumming unfurls over seesaw percussion on the anxious “Gentle with My Heart.” Shupe tempers his buoyant optimism and restless momentum with the knowledge that journeys outward and unbound can exact a heavy price.