Back when The Band was doing their thing in Woodstock out at Big Pink, Rick Danko was once quoted as saying, “When people were stacking up Marshall amps and blowing out their ear drums, The Band was down in the basement at Big Pink trying to get a balance. It wasn’t about one person trying to blow the others away, it was about trying to play together and find an economical common ground.” Asbury Park’s own Montagna And The Mouth To Mouth carry on that ‘60s idealism while mixing their own eclectic brand of communication into the foundation.
Made up of eight complex musicians, Montagna And The Mouth To Mouth is a precariously stacked ensemble that plays a diverse combination of styles. Utilizing layered vocals, shimmering webs of guitars, accordions and organs, this is a big band that not only has their orchestrated shit together, but takes everything they do to the edge of the creative precipice, not bothering with commercial restrictions and formulas but instead reaching deep into collective souls to produce honest and heartfelt music that comes across as stand out stuff in the midst of our current “Yeehaw, I’m Americana” scene.
Many influences dart in and out of the mind of Jason Montagna (main songwriter) and the band’s latest CD entitled L’avenir (a term referring to the future). With newer influences such as Bright Eyes, Cold Play, Band Of Horses and Iron And Wine mixing well with golden aged traditions of Buffalo Springfield, Pink Floyd and The Band (with Dylan) they look to be wide open with musical possibilities.
Some of the more interesting songs on the new disc are “Dinosaurs,” utilizing trance-like synths, warbling into walls of guitars and thick, cool back beats and bass, courtesy of Meeker and deMello, they set the platform for the verses up tight—sort of a Steve Miler vocal thing going on here and slowed down and sonic as hell.
“Owls” is a gem that flies far away from the typical pop composition styles. The lyrics are well-tied in and clever. Great use of space and dynamics from Montagna as backing vocals mate well with waves of dirty decaying guitars. The lyrical line, “Owls carry spirits of ancestors, grandpa’s gonna make sure you get yours,” makes me pretty much want to stay away from barns, state parks and graveyards—the most interesting and original song I’ve heard all year.
“With Awkward Speech” snaps into an accordion drone and military drum roll ala The Alarm minor-keyed and packed with great descriptive lyrics like, “once we were face to face with awkward speech, lips with harpoon words and magnet teeth and she has a name that I can’t keep in my mouth.”
“Better Half” is a subdued Cure styled tune ala Rachel Ade, blending rhythmic gold with deep lush synths and bells. The lyrics, smart in their release tell you like it is with the line, “you take the better half, I’ll take the bitter half, take the better half of me.” The poetry of Jack Monahan close things up here in only the way Jack can do it. His distinct and reedy monotone comes in under “Escape From New York”-vibed keyboards and lies down staccato quick poetry with urgency. As he says, “Theres no stoppage in the road show clown house. If the shoe fits…wear the hat.” And he does.
“Washed Out,” another song written by Rachel Ade, is a beautiful skeletal piece. Montagna’s raspy, spatial vocals flow fast over ultra wide space, something most bands can’t comprehend. Space is good, space centers the composition and space focuses the listener on the build and ultimate conclusion of the song. The end is almost archaic in its intelligent simplicity.
My favorite cut is “Light Speed Church,” reverb drenched vocals wail plaintively with harmonies into ethereal bridges. Interestingly enough, the bridge in this song crosses into a chorus hook focused on the backing vocals of Rachel Ade, deMello, Meeker, Wodzinski and others, and it’s infectious as hell. Glass toned electrics glide loosely across the plain of the song with strummed acoustics, shakers and organs.
“Blown Out’ hits the traditional side of this band like a freight train out of Saugerties, New York. Guitars roll bright and country tinged ala James Burton as Montagna’s straight-ahead vocal drones Smokey mountain backwoods with great rhythmic support from Meeker and deMello as harmonicas blow Neal Young done over killer vocal choruses. The horns of Daniel Schlett are perfect here.
Echoes of Jack Monahan return with the recurring theme of L’avenir, this time under “Taxi” sounding Rhoades bells, analog echo and reverb drenched debauchery. I have to say, I had a great time with this disc and the live show as well. This is one band to watch, as they ultimately will get more popular. For more info on Montagna And The Mouth To Mouth head over to myspace.com/themouthtomouth.