REVIEW: Mike Montrey Band — Searching for My Soul (LP)
Mike Montrey and his cohorts in his namesake outfit are one of New Jersey’s best current exports turning out high-caliber songwriting and rootsy musicianship for a world lacking enough of the former and practically bereft of the latter. Dedicated followers of fashion beware because Mike Montrey, Jen Augustine, drummer Brian Prokop, bassist Anthony Duca, Jack Stanton’s pedal steel, and John Ginty’s triple threat of Hammond B3 organ, Wurlitzer, and piano haven’t made this album for you. Searching for My Soul, instead, is for the faction of music listeners still out there longing for authentic musical art cleaved out of the heart rather than plotted out like a program.
“I Can’t Wait Any Longer” shows off the band’s instrumental talents in a soulful yet unostentatious fashion. It’s pure throwback blues with plenty of R&B spiking the sauce and the in the pocket groove Prokop and Duca lock into is the song’s core. The dual vocals of the Mike Montrey Band are one of the aspects of their presentation that breaks from a lot of similar acts because it is frankly difficult to pull off finding two like-minded singers like this. Jen Augustine’s voice, however, plays off of Montrey’s with immense skill and they seem to intuitively understand where the other is going.
“Reno” has an almost anthemic tone that’s surprising. It isn’t especially overstated, but there’s this gradual swell and sweep built into the song that enhances its obviously conscious theatrical slant. It’s a road song, of sorts, though not completely. Distances in Mike Montrey songs are not measured in miles alone and the balance of his songwriting interiority with his observing eye produces a small masterpiece with “Reno”.
“Blue Skies Again” scales the same lofty peak. It plays it cool at first and seems solid, if not quite spectacular, but Montrey’s musical sleight of hand eventually shifts the song into a higher gear. The singers certainly raise the stakes, and no one keeps upping the ante as Montrey does. Augustine, once again exhibiting when this pairing works so well, matches him every step of the way and it isn’t any cliché to say they feed off each other’s performance. “Listen to Me Roar” is cut from much of the same cloth, surprisingly enough, though it takes an admittedly different route to get there. The peak moment for many listeners will come during the song’s chorus as Augustine makes her presence felt with memorable results.
“Searching for the Sun” can be heard as a quasi-title track for the album, but it doesn’t make any boisterous final statement. Montrey, instead, closes the album with an acoustic curtain and the band provides a muted but appropriately forceful counterpoint. His lyrics may be an underrated part of Montrey’s talent; they deserve special attention here, however. He’s skilled at moving from image to image and there’s not a lot of useless ornamentation in a Mike Montrey lyric. It’s the crowning touch on an already fine song that brings his latest album Searching for My Soul to a satisfying close.