In a July 2015 NPR interview, guitarist Josh Ritter stated that Weir was working on an album of "cowboy songs". In August 2015, during an interview with Dan Rather, Weir performed a ballad, titled "Blue Mountain" from the upcoming album. On February 12, 2016, while performing at Sweetwater Music Hall for a benefit for Ring Mountain Day School, Weir debuted two new originals from the album; "Gonesville", and "Lay My Lily Down".
Musicians on the album include Ritter, Josh Kaufman, Scott Devendorf, Joe Russo, and The Walkmen's Walter Martin, along with lyricists Gerrit Graham and Barlow. Kaufman is the producer.
Weir will set out on a 9-date "Campfire Tour" in support of the album in October 2016, making stops on the West and East coasts. He will be backed on tour by members of the National, including Aaron Dessner, Bryan Devendorf, Scott Devendorf, and Josh Kaufman.
Weir previewed and performed selections from the new album at The Heath at The McKittrick Hotel, in New York City on August 4, for around 120 people. He was joined for the performances by Josh Kaufman. Song selections performed included Blue Mountain, Lay My Lily Down, and Ki-Yi Bossie, where as Weir also previewed the album cuts of "Only a River", "Ki-Yi Bossie", and "Ghost Towns".
He also spoke at length about certain tracks, indicatiing about the song "Ki-Yi Bossie" - a song Weir said he wrote for the ailing John Perry Barlow, a true campfire song that tells the tale of a whiskey and cocaine-filled night. "I wrote it the way I thought he would've," Weir said following the performance when an audience member asked him about the song. Rolling Stone also reported that "Ki-Yi Bossie," will be a campfire singalong with Ramblin' Jack Elliott." Talking about "Lay My Lily Down", Mason prompted Weir on the content of the record, noting the song contained quite a bit of sadness. "Because I've been there," Weir responded when asked how he transported himself to that mood. The emotional reading of the next song came from, according to Weir, listening to a lot of Appalachian music.
On August 18, 2016, the first single from the album, "Only a River" was released on NPR's "All Things Considered" for streaming. It was written in collaboration with Josh Ritter. NPR's Felix Contreras calls "Only A River" an emotional reflection on life that references the 19th-century American folk song "Shenandoah."
Weir described the making and collaboration process of Blue Mountain: "When I was 15 I ran away to be a cowboy. I found myself working in Wyoming living in a bunk house with a bunch of old cowpokes and ranch hands, and a lot of those guys had grown up in a era before radio had even got to Wyoming. Their idea of an evening was to tell stories and sing songs. I was the kid with the guitar I was the accompaniment.I learned a bunch of those songs and got steeped into that tradition. It's a tradition that's almost gone. I've been sort of wondering what to do with that, for decades now. About four years ago, I did a webcast with Josh and a bunch of the guys from The National. I enjoyed playing with them a bunch. They decided that they liked my cowboy tunes with the Grateful Dead, and proposed a project where we do some stuff like that. That proposal kinda rang my bells."
On September 8, 2016, the second single from the album, "Gonesville", was premiered on Rolling Stone's website for streaming. It was also written in collaboration with Josh Ritter. Rolling Stone's Elias Leight describes "Gonesville" as "Weir and his band shambling cheerfully here: The bass line hints at the verve of honky tonk, the harmonica scoots forward and the lead guitar spits lively licks. A raft of backing vocalists join in during the chorus, adding to the cool, festive air, and "Gonesville" comes to a close with a jaunty group chant."
Speaking about the inspiration for "Gonesville", Weir described the song as "being a take on a Rockabilly tune. I was trying to go back and channel Elvis for the vocal, and for the music as well."
On September 12, 2016, the third song, "Lay My Lily Down", had its premiere on NPR's World Cafe for streaming. Speaking about the song, writer David Dye stated that ""Lay My Lily Down," written with Ritter and Kaufman, sounds like a traditional song. It's a haunting tune, sung in the voice of a father as he buries his daughter. The powerful backing music is a dense, steadily building meld of minor-key guitars."
Speaking about the song, Weir stated that "The song was the brainchild of Josh Kaufman. And he was lifting it from "Lay My Corey Down", an old folk tune. I found a thread that wove into the song that wants to be banjo-oriented. Over the years I've been trying to frail the guitar, as in claw-hammer, banjo style."
Blue Mountain is Weir's first solo release since Weir Here in 2004, and the first to feature entirely new music in 30 years.
The album was well-received by critics. Pitchfork writer Jesse Jarnow called the album "quietly adventurous, wise, and a welcome late-career turn." Entertainment Weekly writer Eric Renner Brown rated the album a 91/100, and described the album as "a moving group of tunes worthy of any campfire." Rolling Stone writer Richard Gehr wrote that "The highlight is his self-penned and unaccompanied "Ki-Yi Bossie", in which "a 12-step meeting under harsh fluorescent light" occasions a wry round of soul-searching, no wide-open spaces required." PopMatters writer Chris Ingalls wrote that Weir had " never sounded better than when singing top-shelf material like "Whatever Happened to Rose"". Andy Gill, writing for The Independent, wrotethat "The widescreen south-western ambience is stippled with intriguing touches, like the shruti box and bowed guitar droning through "Gallop On The Run", and the rhythmic rattling chains of the death ballad "Lay My Lily Down"; though the most moving performance is Weir's plaintive solo piece "Ki-Yi Bossie", oozing empathy for a reluctant penitent alcoholic."
Not all reviews were positive; Boston Globe critic Matthew Gilbert wrote that "the manufactured atmosphere ultimately distances the listener. With a few exceptions, including the song "Blue Mountain", the production also fails to find the best way to deploy Weir's voice, holding it too far back in the mix."
ProductionJosh Kaufman – producer
Bob Weir – producer
Bernie Cahill – executive producer
Matt Busch – executive producer
D. James Goodwin – mixing
Greg Calbi – mastering
Steve Fallone – mastering