Riddy Arman Sings Sparse Country Songs About Life, Death

Riddy Arman
Riddy Arman Mike Vanata
Riddy Arman’s father lay dying in a hospice center in September 2003 when a vision of Johnny Cash appeared and asked her father to cross over with him. As far as nebulous specters beckoning one to the hereafter are concerned — even if it’s only a hallucination — you can’t go wrong with Johnny Cash.

Her father, who was never a huge fan of the singer, declined the offer, but told his wife all about the vision when she returned to the room. Coincidentally, the real Johnny Cash died that same day, and Arman’s father joined him a month later. Arman, a Montana-based Americana artist, took the story and turned it into “Spirits, Angels or Lies,” the first track on her self-titled debut album, released in September.

“That song’s kind of about how you can think whatever you want from those moments,” she says. “We never really know what people see. That’s the beauty of death. I think people go wherever they want, whether that’s heaven or wherever.”

For the record, her mother is now a Johnny Cash superfan.

Arman has toured recently with Canadian singer-songwriter Colter Wall and is now headlining her own tour, with a show at the hi-dive on Friday, December 17, with The Local Honeys opening. The songs on Arman's record are often little more than her vocals and guitar playing, drums and steel guitar accompaniment, and she’s stripping it down further for the shows.

“These are all going to be solo shows,” she says. “It will allow me the opportunity to just be more interactive with the audience and perform from more of a songwriting standpoint and talk more about the songs. I’ll be out with a band at some point.”

Although she’s written songs for years, Arman’s turn as a professional musician is somewhat recent, triggered in part by a viral 2020 performance produced by Western AF, an outfit that documents modern country and Americana artists through video. Her music is drawing comparisons to that of modern singers such as Neko Case as well as country legends Cash, Dolly Parton, Glen Campbell, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson and others. (Arman delivers a cover of Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night” on the record.) She’s hesitant to accept the comparisons.

“I have such a hard time hearing anything else,” she says. “I’m so wrapped up in it because it’s me and mine, and I have all these thoughts surrounding putting my music out. I don’t know. I never know what to think about it, good or bad.”

The songs on the album are sparsely arranged and minimalist in sound. Arman says she drew her lyrics from experiences with heartache and life on the range. The song “Barbed Wire” concerns seeing other ranch hands working hard in remote, lonely locales. The tracks “Half a Heart Keychain” and “Too Late to Write a Love Song” are autobiographical to the point where she says she wishes the people those songs were written about were none the wiser. While “Problems of My Own” isn’t strictly autobiographical, it’s inspired by true emotions she’s experienced in her family life.

“I definitely remember growing up and the moment when I realized my parents were human and imperfect and weren’t superheroes,” she says. “I remember thinking it would be a lot easier if I could run off and find my own problems.”

The Ohio native has worked as a ranch hand, mostly in western Montana, where she now lives. She’s also worked at a ranch in Northern California and with a quarterhorse breeder in Virginia. She took a short-lived gig as a landscaper in New Orleans, but found the humid climate too brutal.

“I’ve always been into agriculture,” she says. “I’ve always had a passion for animal husbandry and also horses. I’ve been writing and super involved in anything equine-related since I was a kid. Getting into ranching was a really natural path.”

Arman started her ranching career looking after a friend’s Montana plot several years ago, feeding forty head of cattle and pigs, “making sure nothing went haywire,” she says. She met the community of ranchers during her stay, and it eventually progressed into a full-time job.

“It seems like it’s this job that is hard, impossible to find, and you have to be lucky to get it or be born into it,” she says. “That’s really not the case. Everyone’s desperate for workers. It’s just a lot of these old folks don’t use the internet.”

Riddy Arman, Friday, December 17, at the hi-dive, 7 South Broadway. Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 day of the show. For more information, visit
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