One of the finer 1990's "hat act" country stars, John Michael Montgomery proved masterful at both dude-ly honky-tonk and chick-friendly ballads, and recorded his fair share of major-label crap as well. Overall, I like his stuff. And, yes, he is the younger brother of Eddie Montgomery, half of the Montgomery-Gentry duo... But don't hold that against him! Here's a quick look at his work.
John Michael Montgomery "Greatest Hits" (Atlantic, 1997)
John Michael Montgomery "Love Songs" (Warner Nashville, 2002)
John Michael Montgomery "The Very Best Of..." (Warner/Rhino, 2003)
John Michael Montgomery "Life's A Dance" (Atlantic, 1992)
(Produced by Wyatt Easterling & Doug Johnson)
A fine debut from this Kentucky native. He dips unashamedly into commercial mode, but has enough of a hard country spirit to keep me hooked. This album opens with a real zinger, "Beer And Bones," which is a great, A-plus honkytonk novelty song; everything after that is just icing on the cake. Not everything on here wows me, but nothing makes me want to run screaming from the room or blow up the stereo, either... Which, for Nashville, ain't bad. Montgomery is the younger brother of Eddie Montgomery, who -- as half of the Montgomery Gentry duo -- followed him into show biz, and did quite well, too, thank you very much.
John Michael Montgomery "Kickin' It Up" (Atlantic, 1994)
(Produced by Scott Hendricks)
One of those almost, not quite, kinda-sorta, semi-hard neotraditional albums. It's kinda like John Anderson without the subtlety or sense of humor. Some of the songs are okay, like "She Don't Need A Band To Dance" or "All In My Heart," but others, particularly the Southern rockin' good ole boy numbers ("Friday At Five," "Be My Baby Tonight") are too by-the-numbers, and lifeless compared to his weepers. Ditto with the prefab power ballads ("I Swear," etc.) Still, when he calms down and just sings real heartsongs, the guy's pretty good.
John Michael Montgomery "John Michael Montgomery" (Atlantic, 1995)
Well, since he had that one huge hit with the super-sappy "I Swear" on his last album, it was inevitable Montgomery'd follow up with a bunch of super-gooey power ballads. The funny thing is, though, how rickety some of them are, like "I Can Love You Like That," which hit #1, even though he had a lot of trouble keeping his voice from breaking. Other songs aren't so ragged-sounding, so I suppose it was all on purpose... But still -- why? Why sing badly? I don't get it. Anyway, I think he does better on the uptempo tunes (sometimes; depends on the song...) although "Heaven Sent Me You," a two-hankie weeper at the end of the album, is a pretty durn good slow song. This disc's a mixed bag; it was a huge commercial success, but I still think the guy was still finding his footing as a performer.
John Michael Montgomery "What I Do The Best" (Atlantic, 1996)
(Produced by Czaba Petocz)
Not his best album, not his worst. Mostly this is pretty thin, with adequate arrangements that don't do enough to cover up his deficiencies as a singer, bit there are a couple of fun songs that kind of make up for it. "Paintin' The Town Redneck" is one of the uptempo honkytonkers, but musically the song doesn't rise above its obvious conceptual limitations...
John Michael Montgomery "Leave A Mark" (Atlantic, 1998)
Yeesh. Super-formulaic, cannily produced, soft, pop-tinged numbers, with a strong whiff of Don Henley and the Eagles on most songs, or Harry Chapin, even. Montgomery is very good at delivering on this slick kind of material, but you gotta be willing to go there with him. Me, I like stuff that's a little less calculated and a little more imperfect, but as commercial fare goes, this is exceptionally well crafted. That being said, songs like "That's Just Love" are appallingly bland and a shameful waste of this guy's talent...
John Michael Montgomery "Home To You" (Atlantic, 1999)
Soulless. Kicks off with a couple of jittery Southern-rockin' uptempo numbers worthy of Charlie Daniels, then coasts into several limp, lazily constructed ballads, all of which are bland, poorly written and unexciting. Montgomery doesn't even seem to be trying on half these songs: his phrasing is way off, and he seems content to let the glossy production to all the work for him. Big mistake. "When You Arms Were Around" resonates, but otherwise you can skip this one and not miss out on much.
John Michael Montgomery "Brand New Me" (Atlantic, 2000)
The production values just get bigger and bigger, and the artist more and more distant. Hard to care anymore. The romance is over. He can still pull ya in with tunes like "Weekend Superstar," but it's mostly pretty prefab and businesslike. Heck, "Even Then" is nothing but a shameless recycling of the melody and structure of "I Swear," a hit he had six years earlier. Did they think we just wouldn't notice?
John Michael Montgomery "Pictures" (Warner, 2002)
Good lord... what happened?? He really is turning into Charlie Daniels, isn't he? (Check out "Country Thang," which opens this disc...) and the slick stuff is just sooooo slick! Bleahh. I give up! (Still, the raunchy, pun-laden "Four Wheel Drive" is kinda fun, even though modern country fans will probably find it too bluntly sexual and rowdy... it tanked out when I played it online. Still, nice to see some sign of life left in this guy!)
John Micheal Montgomery "Mr. Snowman" (Warner Nashville, 2003)
Mostly standard-issue Nashville holiday fare, but with a couple of surprising new tracks. The country content lies almost entirely in Montgomery's rumbling voice, enveloped in thumping, piano-heavy, big band-ish arrangements and swooping pop-vocals strings'n'horns. But he is well-suited to the style, with a smoky, relaxed delivery and a comfortably delivery that lets him stretch out and melt into the lyrics. If you like corny poppish holiday albums, this one's pretty good. The original songs on this album include "December, 1943," about a soldier's holiday on the European front line... It's sappy and pleasantly compelling.
John Michael Montgomery "Letters From Home" (Warner Brothers, 2004)
(Produced by Byron Gallimore & John Michael Montgomery)
Of the flood of post-September 11 patriotic tunes, few have reached the lyrical heights of Alan Jackson's "Where Were You," and in general most songs in the ouvre have been clumsy and ham-fisted, stuff like Toby Keith's oafish and embarrassingly bad "Angry American" and "American Soldier" or Daryll Worley's catchy but poorly reasoned "Do You Remember," songs that mainly seek to persuade or score points in the ongoing cultural turf war on the homefront. In contrast, this album's title track, Tony Lane and David Lee's "Letters From Home," transcends the politics of the moment with an understated, emotionally resonant, well-crafted portrait of a soldier at war whose crushing daily regime is lightened by news from the folks back home. By not mentioning Saddam, Osama or -- god forbid -- the "ragheads," the song retains a timelessness, speaking to the hardships and determination of soldiers in general, not just those send abroad in the Bush years, and its rise to the top of the charts is quite justly deserved. Though not as powerful as the single, the rest of the album is also pretty good -- on the very next track, Montgomery mentions seeing the war on the evening news, but lapses into escapism and the comfort of baby's arms. On the whole, though, singing one great song with such emotional power ain't bad, and fans who buy this album just on the strength of that track alone will not be disappointed by the rest of the disc. Recommended.
John Michael Montgomery "Time Flies" (Stringtown, 2008)
Hick Music Index