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Roy Montgomery

The Allegory of Hearing

(Drunken Fish)

The best guitar albums are those created by musicians with their own vision, people like John Fahey, Loren MazzaCane Connors and Roy Montgomery. Montgomery’s latest CD The Allegory of Hearing is another beautiful artistic creation from a guitarist whose sound is his own. The perspective behind his music is expansive. As such, it brings to mind geography, cinema, spirituality and other sizable matters…or maybe I’m just projecting those associations from song titles like “Rock, Sea, Muse, Seek”, “At the Intersection of Herzog & Wenders” and “As the Dali Lama Was Remarking I Believe”. In either case, after leaving the speakers, his music stretches out and travels to every corner of the room, the way worthwhile instrumental music should. It creates its own space.

The first six tracks on The Allegory of Hearing are dreamy, pretty abstract pieces of a relatively short length (five minutes or less). Though they have an openness to them, they are also filled with melody rather than dissonance or jaggedness. Next is the 17-minute “Resolution Island Suite”. Separated (on paper, not on disc) into seven parts, this suite takes a central place in the album. The liner notes indicate that the suite appeared “in draft form” at the Terrastock II festival in San Francisco, and that he has reworked it as an instrumental piece. This suite, generally speaking, is more blues-oriented. It’s also less straightforward and less melodic, as you might expect from a track of that length.

The liner notes give an explanation not only of the history behind “Resolution Island Suite”, but of the motivation behind Montgomery’s writing of it. Here Montgomery explains the title as a reference to a New Zealand bird sanctuary for endangered species, and tells how it was set up by an eccentric man named Richard Henry, himself a “socially flightless bird”.

The track is meant as a dedication toward nature; here lies an interesting question for me. With instrumental compositions where the musician wants to express an extramusical meaning or idea, would the listener get that meaning if he didn’t explain it outside of the piece?. In other words, would anyone know this piece is about nature if he didn’t say so in the liner notes? I don’t know, probably not. But I do know that in a span of 17 minutes he manages to set a mood that goes from spooky to beautiful and he plays notes in a wild, energetic way, all the while setting a scene with a large enough stroke to suggest the presence of some enormous force lurking behind. Whatever the intellectual motivation behind “Resolution Island Suite” or The Allegory of Hearing, Roy Montgomery has a way of playing the guitar that hints at all sorts of meanings while painting a pretty musical picture, and it makes the album work.

Dave Heaton has been writing about music on a regular basis since 1993, first for unofficial college-town newspapers and DIY fanzines and now mostly on the Internet. In 2000, the same year he started writing for PopMatters, he founded the online arts magazine, still around but often in flux. He writes music reviews for the print magazine The Big Takeover. He is a music obsessive through and through. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri.

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