Last Sunday, Bonnie Montgomery headlined at the Grand Ole Echo, the weekly country music/Americana night at The Echo. The Arkansas-based singer/songwriter is classically trained in opera but plays country rock mixed with Americana and folk. Her training was especially noticeable at the show whenever her clear high notes cut through her powerful, tough-gal voice. Wearing a flattering dress with cowgirls on it and flanked by lead guitarist Nathan Howdeshell and upright bassist Jimmy Young, with drummer Justin Collins in back (sporting long, red braids), she practically glowed with charisma and pleasure to be there.
Montgomery’s songs, off her new self-titled album, have a familiar cowboy country feel with an original spin and clever lyrics, and they’re certainly difficult not to dance to. “Black County” will get you waltzing around whether you have a partner or not (or technically know how to waltz). There was one couple that frequently danced up front, twirling each other around, and the whole crowd seemed to enjoy it. “Nashville” is catchy and upbeat with nice lead guitar and “Diamonds” is folky with a melody reminiscent of the old song “Hush, Little Baby” (“Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird”). “Take Me or Leave Me” is dramatic like a soundtrack to a western movie, and it reminds me a bit of Neko Case. The album version has pretty violin that adds to the drama and lush feel.
The band did a really fun, fast cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and Montgomery’s voice sounded perfect, taking on extra grit but not imitating Cash either. She announced beforehand that she’d gotten in trouble playing that one in Texas, and I can’t imagine why, unless someone objected to a woman singing it. She introduced “But I Won’t” by saying it was about how she wanted to do all these important things, but she just wrote a song about them instead. She had an easy rapport with the crowd, saying, “Thank you, handsome fella” to a fan that brought her a drink, and it was the band members themselves that ran their merch table right after the show.
Montgomery and the band played San Diego last night and will hit Tulsa, OK tonight before throwing their CD release party back home in Arkansas. Also available are two EPs and the album Live at The Cake Shop.
Top photo by Jason Masters via Bonnie Montgomery’s Facebook