Honesty is where the best songs come from, and a decade ago – within the first lines of the first song from his very first album, no less – Noah Gabriel was already making that abundantly clear. “I don’t know what to say, but I won’t turn away,” from the appropriately-titled “Pride,” ushered Gabriel into the Chicago roots-rock scene, crafting his own blend of amiable roots-rock that pulls equally from fiery blues of Stevie Ray Vaughn or BB King and wry folk witticisms a la Lucinda Williams or Ryan Adams. From 2005′s debut solo effort In Aurora to this year’s Easy (as part of the power-trio Noah’s Arcade), Gabriel’s songs are powerful dissections of characters in desperate times or taking even more desperate measures.
Whether Gabriel would consider himself akin to these same characters is up for debate, but his personal as well as musical growth have been on consistent upswings through the past ten years, thus allowing newfound perspective to gel with his penchant for the existential. He’d most likely tell you himself that an early album like In Aurora saw then 20-year-old Gabriel focusing more on standing out as a guitarist rather than a quote-unquote songwriter. But throughout Gabriel’s career, he has gained influence and mentorship from bonafide music icons as well as close friends and collaborators. On a national level, Gabriel has found kinship with the likes of Tim Polite of The Byrds, Howard Levy (founding member of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones), jazz drummer Ernie Adams and Miles Davis engineer Rob Ruccia. Locally, he counts close friends like former guitarist and co-producer Gary Belniak, engineer Mike Bowen, songwriting troubadour Greg Boerner and Noah’s Arcade rhythm section Chad Watson and Justin O’Connell as those that have influenced his songwriting, energized his growth or even pushed him simply to play out more often. Thanks to this canyon-wide support system, Gabriel slowly became more assured as a lyricist, and more open to allowing his breathtaking guitar solos to speak on behalf of a song’s subject instead of primarily connecting bridges and choruses.
It took a move from his native Chicago suburbs to a true songwriter’s town – Austin, TX – for Gabriel to truly be discovered, if only by himself. 2012′s Austin Bound is a deeply personal record that accompanied his change of scenery, further cementing Gabriel’s talent for penning intimate tales about the human experience. Despite being a veteran of the Chicago area, one couldn’t help feeling swallowed by the everyone-for-themselves scene that Austin had become. “The ten years of playing up here meant nothing to them down there,” Gabriel told local blog Screw’dtopia in 2014. “I was just a guy.”
But without that shift of location, without being away from home base for a bit, some of Gabriel’s best work to date might not have happened at all. It was upon returning to Illinois that Gabriel eventually reconnected with Watson and O’Connell – whom he had played with at a birthday party for local record store owner Steve Warrenfeltz before the Austin move – on what would become this new path. On the self-titled Noah’s Arcade debut, cuts like “Beggars Never Borrow” and “On The Run” speak directly to these new life experiences as do the discordant feel of “Looking Back” or “Vultures” from the aforementioned Easy. Now settled back to the town that made him who he is, Gabriel has a lot to say ten years on and music fans worldwide – having seen him open for the likes of Robert Randolph and the Family Band or the Old 97′s – are better for it.