Mike Montrey’s professional music career began in 2001 with the formation of the band Water. Water earned themselves a cult-like following from several tours that included performances at SXSW, as well as famous clubs such as the Knitting Factory, Stone Pony and many other well-known music venues across the country. Mike was invited to join the seminal rock band The Samples, which lead to several worldwide tours as the guitarist for the group. The Samples keyboardist, Karl Dietel, appears on several past Mike Montrey band releases and regularly performs with them in live settings.
Mike Montrey Band is releasing their new album, John Street, on Jan. 26 via Water Production Records. The album was produced by Grammy-winner Jim Scott, who has put his tasteful sonic stamp on releases by Wilco, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Santana and Tedeschi Trucks Band, to name an illustrious few.
John Street was recorded at the famed PLYRZ studio with legendary keyboardist John Ginty, who is known for his soulful, energetic performances with the Dixie Chicks, Citizen Cope, Robert Randolph and the Family Band and several others. Ginty is well-loved for his Hammond B-3 organ skills, which shine freshly alongside Mike Montrey on guitar/vocals, Anthony Duca on bass, Rob Smith on the drums and Jen Augustine on vocals. Montrey also features pedal steel player Dave Pearlman that appears heavily on John Street, and I’ll try to cover them as I move through some of the tracks on this soon-to-be-released album.
John Street contains a total of 11 Montrey-penned songs and is dedicated to the memory of Monica Kilewski. So, let’s take a listen, and I’ll give you my impressions of the man, the music and the magic that makes up the Mike Montrey Band.
The first song on the disc is the first targeted single, “Blanket of Dust.” Montrey kicks things off with the able assist of pedal steel guru Pearlman, who layers this piece with pure road-weary grit and authenticity. He is joined by John Ginty on organs and Augustine on backing vocals. Bass and drums percolate as Montrey delivers his gritty, back porch vocal style over the top of guitars. Montrey has appeared several times in this column mainly due to his precise songwriting skill and “Blanket of Dust” continues that in that forward moving effort. Montrey and Augustine sound like they’ve been singing together for years and the layers of Ginty Organ and Pearlman steel work blend well with his acoustic work. Compositionally speaking, “Blanket of Dust” scores high. Verses move smoothly into bridges and catchy choruses with an effortless motion, and the song should do well with established fans and new listeners as well.
The next track that really caught my attention is “A Lifetime Made of Glass.’ Montrey once again pairs with Augustine to provide a breezy, well-crafted song fleshed out with Pearlman’s savvy slide work and Ginty’s fluid keyboard work. The bridges are powerful, and the choruses click like magic. Montrey’s lyrical presentation is a work of pure class. If you’re into artists such as Neil Young, 10,000 Maniacs or John Prine, you’ll love “A Lifetime Made of Glass.”
“Slow and Easy” is up next. Dobro mixes with acoustic guitar strums and melodic whistling as Montrey and Augustine trade verses before joining for the choruses. Once again Montrey demonstrates expertise and skilled craftsmanship when it comes to songwriting. I love the middle-eight whistling and dobro break that is steeped in 1970s styled easy listening, country rock along the lines of Seals and Crofts. The whistling is catchy and perfectly in pitch, delivering a hook all its own and blending with Pearlman’s dobro work to produce a unique sound and yet another catchy song that will stay with you for day and days.
“Aether and Chaos, Beauty and Wine” takes the players next and its probably one of my favorite songs on the disc. Montrey starts things off with acoustic chops as he begins his vocal delivery. When the band kicks in, its Pure Prairie League territory. Pearlman really reminds me of the late, great Ben Keith of Neil Young fame. His lines are sweet, focused and melodic, blending the right amount of truck stop steel into the song and giving the piece its overall trademark sound. Ginty also sings high above the mix, producing excellent organ riffs and trills alongside Montrey, Augustine and the rhythm section like clockwork. I really like the pocketed feel of this song and the chorus is another excellent example of being memorable long after you turn off the player.
“Shoulders of Fate” is another song with the right amount of commercial appeal that will see Mike Montrey get to a larger audience. Duca and Smith pop as Montrey and Augustine harmonize perfectly into every chorus. Pearlman delivers as Ginty layers everything with his intricate brand of keyboard magic. Montrey really understands the art of the chorus and his team up with Jen is dead on and works like no one else out there today. This record is one of those discs that really doesn’t have a dud on it and “Shoulders of Fate” is no exception to that statement.
I have room to discuss one last song, and that would have to be “Eventually Always Comes.” Montrey is an old soul, and this song shows that in spades. His delivery rambles and rolls like the Band in their heyday. Once again Ginty provides that grand piano sound as Pearlman grinds the pedal steel all the way down to the home stretch. Montrey’s vocal style changes for each song, and he can go from gentle lilt to down and dirty rasp ala Rod Stewart, and he does that here. Augustine supports amicably, lending her ultra-appealing tone to choruses and bridges as well. The rhythm boys Duca and Smith swing wide and bright, steering the feel of this vast and visual piece back to the barn with class. This would be another favorite for me, and it ends in a cloud of sustained glory.
John Street will be released on Jan. 26 and will be available on various music sites such as iTunes as well as available at the band’s website. For more information on the Mike Montrey Band and their brand-new record John Street, head over to mikemontreyband.com.