Randy Montana sings about leaving so much, it almost seems pathological. In doing so, he taps right into a throbbing vein of American restlessness, one tied in with idealistic dreams of success and freedom, of the open road, but also with a cynical, nothing-lasts-so-you-must-keep-moving mentality, like the protagonist of a hard-boiled detective novel. Of course, love is the main reason he’s leaving, or love itself is leaving. In his songs the man does a lot of leaving, but he gets left a lot, too. He runs from heartache, but also runs to keep moving, so memories and regret never reach him.
Love’s not the only reason the narrators of these songs leave. “It’s Gone” starts with the departure of his woman (“Mary”, like in “Born to Run”, an appropriate touch point), but then he leaves too, for work. Then the work leaves, so he moves again. There’s a lot of moving going on, chasing a sense of security that never comes. Then again, the character here seems pretty happy within his restlessness: “I’m just trying to make the most of what I have / It ain’t that pretty / But it ain’t half bad”. On “Goodbye Rain”, Montana sounds almost giddy with joy at a life of always moving on. It lifts heavy burdens off his chest. “Oh yeah,” he sings, “don’t it feel good to just run away?” It’s also a matter of running away from death. Time itself is always moving away—life is trying to outrun it.
On “It Ain’t Hit Me Yet” he’s leaving without moving from his bar stool, running headlong into a drunken oblivion. The song’s freight-train pace emulates the speed of her leaving; the impact of it on his heart; the speed at which the whiskey is doing its work on him and the spirit of the “lonesome song” the bartender is playing. The same sort of escapist imagery shows up in an opposite context on “Reckless”. Again, time is leaving, so they’re trying to keep up, but this time, by having a reckless love affair. They’re striving to “make this night an open road”. The song’s softness fits the tone, like the rock ‘n’ roll beefiness of “It Ain’t Hit Me Yet” fits. Actually, the whole album has sturdiness to it, whatever the tone. There’s more atmosphere in the sound of Randy Montana than with your average pickup-truckload of his modern-country peers.
There’s intensity, too, in his singing and the music. It manifests itself in revved-up rock numbers and moody ballads, but also in details that match the songs themselves. For example, the ghostly backing vocals of Emmylou Harris right after Montana sings “holding on and trying to keep her is watching roses disappear”, on “Last Horse”. There’s detail in the lyrics alone, too, like how “Burn These Matches” tells of temptation and the ramifications of choices through the image of a phone number written on a matchbook, or the descriptions during the litany of women that is the opening number, “1,000 Faces”. That song offers just a simple, “I love you more than anyone else” sentiment, but it’s cleverly delivered by presenting a sea of faces, the women he’s seen around him on city streets, and what he thinks of them. That song resembles an observational singer-songwriter like David Baerwald more than it does the majority of today’s Nashville songwriting crowd. At the same time, he’s taking a sentiment and a sound (‘80s rock/pop flavored country) that definitely fits into the genre today. He elevates it well.
The album ends with two songs that resolve the always-moving theme. In the first is a man coming to terms with his capacity for regret. Instead of running away from it, loading his life with more new memories to push out the painful old ones, he’s making a space in “Back of My Heart” to keep those memories intact without dwelling on them. Where that song’s protagonist could be the man from previous songs, just with a more grown-up attitude, the final track, “Assembly Line”, presents another perspective entirely. It’s a look at a humble worker with a “diligent heart” who doesn’t mind his factory job. It’s very matter of fact, a person’s story – not pandering or trying to stand in for a political point. Like the rest of the album, it’s also about time, the “manufactured time” of a workday. “Clocked out about 5 p.m. / Wake up in the morning / Do it all again”, he sings at the end. To end an album of running away from reality, it’s a song about knowing exactly what you’re doing and being OK with that. That’s a confidence that Randy Montana and Randy Montana share.
// Notes from the Road
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