With their blend of southern rock musical textures with traditional country lyrics and values, Montgomery Gentry has successfully carved out a niche in country music that was up until a year or two ago basically their own. Success, however, brings along the willingness of other artists and labels to follow with their own version of Montgomery Gentry’s style. It’s a style that has since become the norm rather than the exception on mainstream country radio and it’s a style that Montgomery Gentry more or less abandoned on their last, more personal record, “Some People Change.”
Despite continued radio success with three more Top 10 hits, the album’s lackluster sales (it was the first of their albums to fail to achieve gold or platinum status) forced Montgomery Gentry to reassess their albums and they decided to return to what they know best for their new record “Back When I Knew It All.” With the wisdom-filled rocking title track back in the top 10, the duo seems to be firmly back in the country-rock groove.
With an introduction that goes from gospel rave-up to honky-tonk metal, “The Big Revival” is an interesting song that’s been recorded by both John Anderson and Joanna Cotten. The song is immediately followed-up by Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry’s take on Kevin Fowler’s “Long Line of Losers.” It was a huge hit for Fowler in Texas and I suspect that Montgomery Gentry will follow suit with a song that proudly proclaims their not-so-sterling roots. The song may be cliché-ridden but, like fowler, Montgomery Gentry sell the fun little song. “One In Every Crowd” is a stellar heartland rocker that was made to be sung along to. Written by Montgomery with Ira Dean (formerly of Trick Pony) , Kim Tribble and David Lee Murphy, the song has the sound of a gigantic radio and concert hit. If any song was written for audience participation, this is it.
“Back When I knew It All” continued the duo’s tradition of offering wisdom and now the rowdy ways of the young are transformed into more wisdom in the form of “I Pick My Parties.” With Toby Keith joining Montgomery Gentry, the trio show that being older means that you don’t have to party every night to have a good time. Montgomery Gentry has always enjoyed singing a few spiritual songs and they do so again on the album closing “God Knows Who I Am.” It’s a tightly played, lyrically strong ballad that falls in-line with the popular ‘list songs’ but with strong piano solos, soaring harmonies from Lillie Mae Rische of Jypsi, and a strong lead vocal from Eddie Montgomery (who co-wrote the song with Phil O’Donnell and Gary Hannan), the song hits home.
With a return to a familiar sound, Montgomery Gentry are back to what they know best. Will it be enough for them to see a sales spike? With the current musical climate, I don’t know but the duo did all they can do to buck the trend.