Singer-songwriter Randy Montana’s self-titled debut album clings to the rough edges of country’s musical highway with its compelling storytelling and vivid imagery combined with a raw but rocking guitar-driven sound.
He makes a powerful statement with his debut project, and critics have quickly taken notice. Southern Living named Montana as one of five “Best New Artists” in its Best of the South issue, stating, “The raspy-voiced Montana, a standout among his ‘I’m more country than you peers,’ breaks the genre’s mold but respects its heritage.” USA Today’s Brian Mansfield called Montana’s “1,000 Faces” his first favorite song of 2011, while People calls him “a must-hear artist.”
Roughstock.com says “1,000 Faces” is “an ethereal experience of epic proportions,” adding, “…Montana has a song that is a once-in-a-career kind of song, the kind of obvious, star-making or career-defining hit that every singer is looking for (and many never find.)” Music Row calls “1,000 Faces” “a sonic masterpiece” and says, “…this ultra-melodic outing is the kind of single that makes a star.”
He spent much of 2010 on the road, touring the nation with artists such as Sugarland and Little Big Town. “It was quite a learning experience, being a part of something where they put 12,000 – 14,000 people in seats a night,” he says of touring with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush. “Kristian said one of the coolest things at the end of the tour. He said, ‘Thanks for keeping the musical integrity of this tour.’ That meant a lot coming from a guy like that.”
It was on this tour that Montana saw firsthand the strong and immediate connection people have to “1,000 Faces,” and this was months before it was played on country radio. “It’s incredible to play that song live,” says Montana, who wrote it with Tom Douglas. “People come up and say, ‘1,000 Faces’ was my favorite song of the night.’ It’s fun to play it live because you get this whole burst of energy yourself.”
Montana’s boundary-free music captures the yearning of restless young men who are in a hurry to take life as far as they can, men who are sometimes too caught up in the moments of passion to have thoughts of regret. His gravelly voice, which sounds older than his years, tells of temptation and consequences while painting musical portraits of wheels turning, fires burning and women scribbling phone numbers on matchbooks.
“With a debut record, you’ve got to come out and be like, ‘Man, this is me. Here are the things that I want to say through a song that hopefully will let others get to know me as a person, where I stand on things and experiences I have gone through,’” he says. “There are heartache songs, those love-lost songs, but there are some that are just good-feeling songs that just feel right. With this album I would like to give people a little glimpse into my life.”
Montana is a songwriter’s son who has found his own voice and quickly earned respect as a tunesmith on Music Row. He co-wrote nine songs on his eponymous album, and Montgomery Gentry recorded the Montana-penned “Can’t Feel the Pain.” Emmylou Harris was so impressed by Montana’s talent that she harmonizes with him on “Last Horse.”
His father is Billy Montana, whose hits include Garth Brooks’ “More Than a Memory,” Sara Evans’ “Suds in the Bucket” and the Grammy-nominated Jo Dee Messina hit “Bring on the Rain.” “Growing up around it, it took me awhile to come into my own,” he says. “I never worried about being in a shadow or anything like that. But I also wanted to achieve that same kind of songwriting level that my dad achieved.”
Montana was born in Albany, N.Y., and moved with his family to Nashville in 1988 when Billy signed a record deal with Warner Bros. He started playing guitar at age 10, writing songs at age 16 and performed his first song publicly at one of his father’s writers’ nights at age 17. “I always grew up around music, watching him do it,” says Montana, who listened to Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Jackson Browne on family road trips. “I kind of grew up next to a stage. Anytime the family got together, the guitars came out.”
He was an award-winning high school quarterback, earning All-State honors for leading the state in passing yards and touchdowns his junior and senior years. He now applies that same dedication and discipline to the music industry. “On the football field, all 11 of us on offense have to work together at the same time to make a play work,” he says. “It’s just like that with the music industry, between your band, your label, management and booking agency. But knowing that at the end of the day, it is my career and I’m in control, I take a lot from my football experience because I grew up in that position on teams. I was always the quarterback; it was all in my hands.”
But he declined several football scholarships and instead opted to play college soccer at Nashville’s Trevecca Nazarene University before transferring to Middle Tennessee State University for two years, until music beckoned. During college he played in a band called Homestead that was frequently booked at fraternity parties and Middle Tennessee bars. “That was a great way to just get your chops up and understand how a crowd works and how to keep them entertained,” he says.
He worked odd jobs, including roofing houses, waiting tables and bartending, while writing songs in hopes of landing a publishing deal. Inspired by the music of Steve Earle, Chris Knight, Hank Williams, Jr., Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, The Wallflowers and Counting Crows, he eventually came into his own with a sound that’s a little left of country’s center.
He signed with Sony Music Publishing in 2008 and began writing with its team of established writers. His burgeoning catalog caught the attention of Universal Music Group Nashville’s Joe Fisher, and he soon signed with Universal’s Mercury Nashville and began creating his debut album.
In addition to “1,000 Faces” and the debut single, “Ain’t Much Left Of Lovin’ You,” the Jay Joyce-produced album’s stand-outs include “Goodbye Rain,” in which he takes a one-way fast train out of town in search of a second chance and relief from his rear-view heartache, and “Like a Cowboy,” which describes a modern-day cowboy who has leaving in his DNA and constant disappointment in his wake. “Girl, I will love you the best that I can, but you need to know I am what I am,” he sings. “I’m not a bad guy, but I’m not a good guy at heart.”
“Last Horse,” which he wrote with his father, is about a man clinging to a dying relationship. “I don’t want to be the last horse left in this one-horse town,” Randy sings with Emmylou Harris. “When you hear a legendary voice like that singing along with your own voice, it’s a little surreal,” he says. “At the time, it’s kind of tough to realize the magnitude of what just went down. But then once it does sink in, it’s like, ‘This is going to be a tough thing to top.’”
“Assembly Line” depicts the daily existence of a manufacturing employee whose life is marked by numbers – production steps, unused vacation days, hourly rates and punched timecards. “It’s a job for the diligent heart and I’m just one of a thousand parts,” he sings. “You might think I’ve got it rough, but I don’t mind working on the assembly line.”
He co-wrote “Back of My Heart” and the high-energy “Reckless” with his father and Brian Maher. “Sonically, there’s definitely a theme,” he says. “We’re using 12-string all over the record, which is kind of Tom Petty-ish. It’s also B-3 heavy and has a very roomy drum sound, kind of like the Wallflowers.”
Randy’s goal is to have enough success that he can keep doing this. “I just love this,” he says. “I wouldn’t have it any other way – performing live, songwriting, being in the studio. I truly love it all.”
“Like they always say, ‘Find something that you love to do and you’ll never work a day in your life.’ So far, I feel that way. There’s nothing I would rather do. I want to take it as far as it can go.”