One of the best things about following local musicians, especially those who perform around town on the regular, is getting to hear new songs as they’re being worked out on stage before they show up on a recording. When I hear a song I especially like, it makes me excited for their next release so I can play the song whenever I want to hear it. That’s exactly how I felt the first time I heard “No More” when Bonnie Montgomery started playing it on stage last year, and the recording is just as exciting as I’d hoped it would be. It’s a kiss-off anthem for feminine independence that would do Loretta Lynn proud with a Boom-chikka rhythm the Tennessee Three couldn’t play better. And there’s a little punk rock defiance in the way she sings the line, “I ain’t gonna be your woman no more.” Geoffrey Robson’s fiddle playing, which ranges into quite eclectic territory on other songs on the album, is in pure country barnburner mode on this song. It all adds up to a track that sounds classically country but appeals to modern sensibilities. In other words, a song that’s as timeless as it is timely.
If honky-tonk and bel canto are strange bedfellows, Bonnie Montgomery’s 2018 release “Forever” didn’t get the memo. Or more likely: saw the memo, read it and – finding it entirely useless – pitched it in the wastebasket. In an undersung gem from Montgomery’s 2011 “Live at the Cake Shop” called “Half,” the classically trained composer made passing reference to her background by way of literary device and wordcraft: “But necessity came crawling on me to play well the part of soprano in the opera” (to my knowledge, the only song in popular music history beside John Doe’s “My Offering” to make direct reference to an operatic soprano, although I’d love to find out I’m wrong.) Here, though, on “Forever,” the marriage of the two styles is complete, chemical fusion. There is no awkward distance between aria and desert ballad, and for this listener, there’s nowhere else on the album that the two mingle more sweetly than on “Comets.” In less than four minutes, a sparse arpeggio and voice duet blossoms into a whirling Spanish-tinged ballet of guitar, violin, voice and wind instruments. Each takes a turn at a delicate lyrical ornament, all underpinning the delivery of the word “night,” which Montgomery delivers as effortlessly and precisely as if she were singing a cadenza in a “chanson Espagnoles.”