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Interview: Dan Montgomery Soars on You'll Never Be A Bird
Candice Ludlow of NPR Affiliate station WKNO 91.1 interview: "Dan Montgomery Soars on You'll Never Be A Bird"
Click to listen to the full interview here...
Memphis is so full of music that you can easily miss some even if it's really good. Dan Montgomery is an Americana songwriter, and he's been living and making music in Memphis since 2001. He's about to release his third CD, You'll Never Be A Bird. Candice Ludlow takes a listen.
Montgomery was born in Philadelphia and raised in South Jersey. But the rolling stone has finally settled down in the birthplace of rock and roll.
"I used to think that I came here and I reinvented myself, but I think I got to really be myself," Montgomery says.
Montgomery has the keen ability to create characters. Some are autobiographical, like We went to the world's fair."
"When I was a little kid, my parents went to the 1964 World's Fair and it was a big deal because me and my brother got to stay with my aunt. My sisters got to stay at home. It was the biggest thing they ever did. You could say we went to Hawaii. They'd say, well, we went to the world's fair, ya know, 64," Montgomery explains.
That same boy felt a chill in the house one winter. And that chill caught up to the adult Montgomery and changed how a song was performed.
"And then a lot of happy accidents, like the winter we didn't speak." Montgomery continues, "I had this really bad summer cold and it wasn't going to work, and Kevin Cubbins the producer, I told him to put up a mic and indulge me. And I did the spoken word thing, at first he found it interesting. Then he grew to really like it."
But the whole point of that song is at the end when he says, "Honey I'm home." Spring broke. Something changed.
And that short moment where something happened is the detail Montgomery is interested in.
"Because to me the whole point of what I'm interested in the stories in these songs, is just what people do in a moment. Not why or the fallout if something bad. Do you go left or do you go right or do you just fall down and go nowhere at all?"
And sometimes the story isn't about a person at all, like The Girl With A Broken Bell
I have this theory that Philadelphia, where I was born and I spent a lot of time, even though I grew up in South Jersey, I was five minutes from Philadelphia. All the music shows you went to was in Philly. I love that city, but it has that attitude. It's interesting that Philadelphia's logo to the world is a broken bell."
Andrew Simonss stand-up bass opens this album from Dan Montgomery with a loose but driving rhythm. Working on a Building, But it Keeps Falling Down: Dan Montgomery knows the right approach, but cant quite get the thing together. Like a bad dream. When it comes to music, however, or writing songs with a subtle message, he knows what hes doing. Like everyone else he reads the paper, and he writes his responses into Youll Never Be a Bird. He flirts with absurdism but keeps both feet on the ground. [or, more literally: He combines apparent absurdism with his feeling for reality.] I really know what he means when he sings, Im Lost (in this World). Every now and then I look around and realize thatfortunatelyIm not the only one. Dan Montgomerys world is tangible, recognizable. There may be an ocean between our worlds, but some everyday problems, frustrations and hurts are universal.
Waltz for Charlie is a token of sympathy for a once promising fellow musician and jazz bassist. Now, alas, hes playing in the prison orchestra, but he once played with Lester Young and Miles Davis. A beautiful, sad story. Equally sorrowful is Girl with a Broken Bell, in which he uses a woman as a metaphor for a city. Proud [?] is a funny thing, itll break your soul in two. That Dan and his band have a wide range is shown by a pounding rock number, Wheels of Soul. The album has plenty of variety, but it comes together in an energetic whole, with Dans voice as only one of the connecting factors. Rosetta, Please (A Love Story) from a few years ago was an impressive album, but Youll Never Be a Bird is easily its equal. Absolutely highly recommended. (I think Ill take his debut, Man from Out of State, down off the shelf again while Im at it. This man sure knows how to write catchy [? appealing? great?] material. Incredible!)
Reviewed by Altcountry.be
If weve learned one thing over the years, its that artists like to regard their new record as their best so far. So it makes sense for us to take these statements with a large grain of salteven with acts that have never yet disappointed us. Like Dan Montgomery, for instance. He e-mailed us the other day to say that Youll Never Be a Bird, his third album to date, was by far his best. But damn, it turns out he was right in spades. And if theres justice in the world, then his new disc will be picked up quickly by a European distributor and well start seeing the man on stages a little closer by. The successor to Rosetta, Please (A Love Story), also highly praised here, is once again an improbably gorgeous record, without question in every respect is his most polished and with the widest range. That probably has a lot to do with the classy contributions of Robert Mache (Continental Drifters, Steve Wynn) on guitar and mandolin, Louis Jay Meyers on pedal steel and banjo, Andrew Simons on acoustic bass and Jesse Williams on drumsnot to mention the vocal ripostes of Candace Mache. Together they create a richer sound palette than ever before, while Montgomery goes to town on genres such as country, Americana, roots rock, folk and even gospel. These are genres in which his songs, always confronting lifes hard realities, without exception seem at home. Among the many high points are the lovely, melancholy country tune that is the albums title song, the dreamy Girl with a Broken Bell, the vulnerable Im Lost, the cautious excursion into country rock of Tomorrow This Time, and Waltz for Charlie, a particularly fine performance that gives extra meaning to the first half of his title.
Philadelphia Inquirer Reviews Dan's Latest Release:
A former South Jerseyan and old Ben Vaughn sidekick who now lives in Memphis, Dan Montgomery really came into his own with 2006's Rosetta, Please (A Love Story), which made our year-end top-10 list. This long-in-coming follow-up, his fourth album, builds on the strengths of that gem.
Montgomery is a gifted storyteller who spins moving, empathetic narratives like "Waltz for Charlie," "Girl With a Broken Bell," and "Dollhouse." With "I.O.U.S.A.," he also produces a sing-along lament for the times that deserves to be a hit.
Montgomery keeps it real - there are not a lot of happy endings here - but he makes the journey a richly rewarding one. Once again, everything is framed in superbly crafted arrangements that dip into country, folk, even gospel ("Working on a Building" plays off the standard of that title), and flat-out rock ("Wheels of Soul"). And, like Montgomery's often hangdog vocals, they're suffused with a deep soulfulness.
Sleepy Hollow Concerts, Alexandria , VA.:
"Dan brings a rock music sensibility to the singer-songwriter genre, along with the ability to shine a strong light into some very dark corners. "Rosetta, Please," his third CD, is a unique story-song cycle -- each song stands out on its own, but they also cohere into a powerful whole. It's a bar-stool story delivered with a musical punch that keeps you coming back for more. Not for those who want a double-dose of sugar with their music, but highly recommended for the rest of us."
Robert Gordon - Author of It Came From Memphis:
"You know how a guitar case knows more after it¹s traveled? Dan Montgomery picked up plenty during his highway years, pouring into these songs good licks, sweet melodies, and observations witty and astute. This collection is a solid first chapter in what will surely be a prolific catalog."
Andria Lisle, Memphis Flyer:
"If Charles Bukowski could have carried a tune, he might have sounded like Dan Montgomery. In lesser hands, such desperation might overwhelm, but Montgomery guides his listeners with freedom and wit."
Cosmik Debris Magazine - Shaun Dale
Dan Montgomery's ability to spot people you'd never notice and turn them into characters you can't resist is uncanny. When he turns his attention inward, he's powerfully, sometimes painfully, honest about the life that's produced such a collection of songs. Songs about sexual revolutions lost, opportunities discarded, hopes retained if not fulfilled.
The notes attach each song to a place, tracing Montgomery's path from New Jersey to California, Arizona to Tennessee. His presentation, straightforward guitar behind a strong voice, offer hints that there may have been a little streetsinging along the way and puts Montgomery and his songs front and center, regardless of who might be playing along. He's enlisted a strong supporting cast, though, adding the texture of accordion, violin, keyboards and steel guitar to his own acoustic guitar and harp.
All that's just primer, though, a surface coat to carry Montgomery's stories, and those stories are reason enough to seek this one out and add it to your personal playlist.
Track List: Long Time Ago * Man From Out Of State * Spinning My Wheels * Need Me * The Seventies * So Naturally * Kitchen Window * That Easy * When I Was A Drunk * Always
Commercial Appeal - Michael Donahue
Dan Montgomery performs about 10 times a month, continually writes songs and
is recording a CD. "The story in my family is that I could sing Soldier Boy
by the Shirelles before I could speak," said Montgomery, 43.
He realized music was going to be his life back in the '60s. "I knew it from
the night the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. I remember my sisters screaming
and my father complaining, and I just went, 'Oh, this is it.' "My mother used
to say if she took me to a mall when I was little, she never worried about me
wandering away. All she had to find was the record store or the piano store.
I'd just be in there bothering somebody. Like, 'If you work in a record store
you're in the music industry and you must know the Cowsills.' " A native of
Philadelphia, Montgomery, who grew up in New Jersey, was in numerous bands,
beginning when he was 15. "We very quickly became known as the Below Average
White Band," he said of one of his first groups. "We basically only had three
songs, which were the theme from SWAT - our big opener, Heat Wave and Right
Back Where We Started From, even though there wasn't a girl singer. We kind of
ran out of songs and the bass player would turn around and go, 'Did someone
say, 'Heat Wave?' And we'd just start all over again."
Another band was Drugs Before Breakfast. "It was really kind of the Stones
or Flaming Groovies kind of thing. It would have been more of a glam band if
we would have been a little thinner. But those clothes just weren't gonna fit
us." Montgomery traveled to Memphis many times as road manager, sound man and
backing vocalist for the Ben Vaughn Combo. He moved here last summer after
meeting photojournalist Stephanie Sweda. "I've always loved Memphis. It's
funky, but not dirty. I'm living proof that there's lots of work you can do here
if you want to."
Crowds weren't receptive to original songs in some other cities. "When I
used to do gigs, I would say, 'Oh, here's a song by Santana,' and I'd just play
one of mine. Nobody ever notices except the club owners." His first solo gig
in Memphis was at Earnestine & Hazel's. "People see you go up there with a
harmonica and an acoustic guitar and they go, 'Oh, it's gonna be Bob Dylan
Lite' or something." Montgomery now plays nearly every Tuesday at Murphy's. "I
call it 'The Lab.' It's not a big bar night, so anything kind of goes. People
come out and play along with me or I can work out and do new material." His
song themes used to be the same. "They usually broke down to two categories,
which were either 'dysfunctional relationships' or 'substance abuse.' " Now,
they're about travel and relationships. In addition to playing music,
Montgomery worked at other jobs. "I've been a teamster, a meat cutter, a truck
driver, mental health worker, a mental health patient, almost." Being in the music
business helped him land a job working with the mentally and physically
challenged at the Bancroft School in Haddonfield, N.J. "I went through this long
interview process and the woman's like, 'I'd really like to hire you, but I
just don't see anything on your resume.' She looks at it again and says, 'Well,
what does a road manager for a rock band do? I said, 'Well, you wake people
up against their will and get them dressed and in a van.' She said, 'Oh,
you're hired. That's the whole job.'