The Montgomerys, 2020
Produced by: Barry Marshall
Website: Peter Montgomery Music
Notable Quote: “And I don’t know why I loved you like I did but there’s no room in my sandbox for another screwed up kid and we’ve grown too old and I really don’t want to play, just go away!” — Peter Montgomery, “Elf on a Shelf”
My quick 2 cents: Cheeky lyrics expressing mature themes, crisp instrumentation backing punchy Elliot Easton solos, and pop-rock sensibilities balanced with whimsical ballads … this album is an audible joyride. Buy it!
The full scoop: I have a hard time pinpointing exactly what it is about this album that is so addictive. It’s kind of like spending a day with a rascally 12-year-old boy who keeps you on your toes and makes you burst out laughing when you’re trying to be stern, but who is also somehow an old soul with an understanding of life that goes much deeper than you anticipated. You almost can’t take him seriously, and you wouldn’t, if it weren’t for the way he taps into your inner feelings.
First World Blues (FWB) is the third album by The Montgomerys, a Boston-based band made up of founder Peter Montgomery on lead vocals and rhythm guitar, lead guitarist Tony Savarino, Mark Nigro on bass, and drummer Mike Levesque. This record features Barry Marshall in the producer’s chair, as well as special guest Elliot Easton of The Cars sitting in on the lion’s share of lead guitar duties.
Born and raised in Scituate, Massachusetts, it took Peter some time to find his niche in the music world. Peter openly admits that he was – and is – a bit of a handful. Dyslexia, struggles with ADD, and a general lack of maturity dictated his early years, but his irreverent sense of humor kept him afloat. As a teen, Peter found songwriting to be an outlet, a way to process his emotional highs and lows. Though he feels like his inceptive efforts lacked an understanding of the importance of words, he would eventually steer his talent into a style of expression that combined the best of his personality with cathartic output. In other words, smart-ass songs that gave him a better handle on life.
And the funny thing is, having had the privilege of speaking extensively with Peter, I recognize that these songs on FWB are exactly him: boyishly charming, off-the-cuff funny, and laced with relentless transparency and intuition.
His 15-year run with his popular Boston band The Irresponsibles brought him within a stone’s throw of hitting the big time: in 1996 they won Musician Magazine’s Best Unsigned Band contest and landed a recording contract with the legendary frontman of King Crimson, Adrian Belew. They even toured the country opening for Belew in 1999 but they could never quite bust through to the next level.
Peter let go of that band and took a brief hiatus, and then formed The Montgomerys around 2004. With time and experience his writing has taken a subtle turn. It is still dressed with his signature self-deprecating humor and cheeky honesty, but now there is a sharper intelligence behind his lyrics, a greater sense of purpose born from taking some hard knocks.
Clocking in at only 33 minutes, this 12-song album wastes no time on drawn out noodling; it throws its songs out like candy at a parade. Peter jumps into every track with boyish energy and vocal enthusiasm. First World Blues bursts off the line with “Back for More,” a bright, danceable rock tune about the hopeless (and helpless) pursuit of love. It easily hooks you with its jaunty chorus and some badass Elliot Easton guitar work.
In fact, let me just say right now that every track that Elliot Easton plays on* is rippled with stylish guitar riffs and flourishes, and the tasty solos we always anticipate from this legendary Rock and Roll Hall-of-Famer.
“Drink That Wine” follows, an oddly inspirational anthem with sixties-ish backing vocals, subtle organ accompaniment, and perfectly incendiary guitar work. By the time you’ve listened to these first two tracks you are sold on the whole trip.
The thing is, throughout the album there’s this delicious juxtaposition of sunny music and gritty lyrics. Peter writes with the honest stream of consciousness of an adolescent, but without the shortsightedness of teenage angst. His themes are definitely relatable to adults: a little heartbreaking, sometimes poignant, with a hint of darkness. But it’s not an emotional drag. His turn of phrase is delightfully surprising, and even when he’s singing about painful things, there’s always this little edge to his voice that assures you he can laugh it off at the end of the day.
“Hostile Waters” illustrates this perfectly. You’ve got this cheerful ukulele melody on top of a plucky bass line, and that sweet child’s voice at the beginning (which belongs to Peter’s younger son, by the way). So cute, right? And yet, the song is really a moving admonition to adults not to jettison their children in the midst of a messy break up.
“Hole in My Roof” is like that, too. I immediately loved the whimsical lullaby melody, but it about broke my heart when I realized he was lamenting the tale of someone who sacrificed a loving relationship in pursuit of his own personal interests.
My favorite song is “Elf on a Shelf.” The theme of a friendship turned dysfunctional is so relatable. Peter works through the situation with humorous frustration and audacious lyrics. The snappy pop melody invites you to sing along, and somehow you find the outlet for your own heightened emotions by belting out the lyrics. At least, I do!
There’s a charming immaturity to the whole album. The more I listen to it, the more I love it. You’ve just got to check it out! You can purchase the album digitally through Amazon and iTunes, or shoot producer Barry Marshall a note through Messenger or send him an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) to buy a physical CD. Also, find Peter Montgomery on Facebook to learn more about his musical projects.
Full album playlist:
* Elliot Easton plays on all of the tracks except “Drink That Wine” and “Hole in My Roof”