There’s probably never been a tougher time for a new act to be breaking into the business in Nashville. Most country acts that put out a new album today will be busting their butts to get gigs at county fairs five years from now if they’re lucky.
Then there’s Randy Montana.
On his self-titled debut album, the 25-year-old Montana sings songs with familiar themes – mostly love won, love lost, and love longed for. The difference is that the songs, nearly all co-written by Montana and prominent Nashville hitmakers, are extremely well-crafted as opposed to so many throwaway cuts that artists co-write these days, and are performed by someone who, barring a serious misstep, could be one of the voices of country music for decades to come.
Every new artist has to be compared to somebody for the sake of reference, so in this case we’ll compare Montana to a young Gary Allan. He’s the real deal. When Montana (with guest Emmylou Harris) sings about a dying relationship in “Last Horse” (“I don’t wanna get stuck here/Waiting on a train that’s never coming back around/I don’t wanna be the last horse/Left in this one-horse town”), the first thought that comes to mind is that the guy can really be identified with, and not whether or not he can sing, the mark of a good vocalist. The album also contains Montana’s two singles thus far, “Ain’t Much Left of Lovin’ You” and the track that has everyone buzzing, “1,000 Faces,” one of the best country singles of the year. Had it been cut by a bigger name it would have hit number one.
The fact that Montana’s dad Billy is a well-known writer, with cuts by Garth Brooks, Sister Hazel and others, probably didn’t hurt the young Montana in terms of making contacts and learning the business. And dad even shows up to do some of the co-writing here, as do other industry vets like Tom Douglas (Miranda Lambert, Alabama) and Casey Beathard (Tracy Lawrence, Tracy Byrd). But this isn’t a record by another chip off the block; it’s a record by somebody who sounds determined to make his own way. His voice and approach are more traditional than some of the Nashville acts he opens for, such as Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum, and he’s bridging the gap between traditional country and the Nashville country-pop that so many purists scream about these days.
Producer Jay Joyce, whose guitar work and production stamp are all over Nashville and beyond, does an excellent job of making sure the tracks carry the excitement and enthusiasm of a young artist who has the goods. As a debut album Randy Montana only warrants four stars out of five. But this artist has a five-star album in him just waiting to get out.