So let’s discuss the elephant in the room, Troy Gentry’s tragic passing in a helicopter accident just days after this album was finished. This will be the duo’s final album–at least unless we get some unreleased material later, as is often the case after artists pass away–and while that’s maybe made this record more significant to a lot of people, especially long-time Montgomery Gentry fans, the fact is that it ultimately has no bearing on this album or how we should receive it.
And that may seem like a strange start to this review, or a strange opinion for a reviewer/critic to hold, not taking something as significant as a death into account when evaluating a record. After all, it’s often context that helps to unwrap an album, and although we try to separate artist’s personal lives from their careers, often their lives and unique personal experiences produce the most compelling, heartfelt music. If nothing else, it may seem easier said than done for me to tell you not to let Troy’s death affect your assessment of this effort because I write this as someone who has enjoyed some Montgomery Gentry music in her time but is also not overly familiar with them, and is certainly not someone who could be classified as a huge fan of the group.
But in this case, Troy Gentry’s death has put a lot of emphasis on this record, and not necessarily an emphasis this record was seeking when he and Eddie Montgomery wrapped it up two days before his passing. It wasn’t a “final album.” It wasn’t written with anything in mind but making a new record. There were no underlying messages here, no evidence the band would break up, no reflections on the end of life as there are for some older artists, as they contemplate possibly producing their last project. It was not an album that was even partly done and then amended once Troy had died, allowing the shadows of his death to be cast over it, a finality to be added to it via some unreleased material or tributes from other artists. It was nothing more than Montgomery Gentry’s ninth studio album, and that’s part of its beauty, and why it’s so important that this record is strong, mostly forsaking their trend-chasing material of the last couple albums for more of what made them so popular earlier in their careers–because they weren’t doing this to go out on a high note, they were just making a good record. And it’s incredibly sad that this has to be their last one.
That said, it’s so relieving to hear a good record from them. Because they weren’t trying to make a good final impression, this could have been anything from a staunch return to their early modern country rock blend to a full-blown embarrassment of a trend-chaser, or really anything in between. And there is one downright awful and unfortunate trend-chasing selection here in “Get Down South,” so let’s just get that out of the way. This is clichéd, uninteresting, and the attempt to rap is…ill-advised, lets’ go with that.
Other than that, though, this is a really solid collection of tunes. “Better Me” is one that is inevitably going to hit people harder due to the circumstances, as Troy Gentry takes the lead and sings about trying to become a better version of himself. But it was a good song already, and delivered with a sincerity that adds to the lyrics. “Crazies Welcome” is one of the most traditional songs I’ve ever heard from the duo, basically embracing all types of people with all their imperfections. I think this song also goes deeper than that, alluding to the fact that real people with real stories make better music than perfect people with nothing out of place. They want scandal, and things that will make us cry; they’ve had enough of everything being done the right way. Basically, I think they’re saying that Nashville and country music should welcome real, crazy people back into the fold if there’s any hope of making the genre interesting and believable again.
Several of these songs remind me of other songs previously recorded by Montgomery Gentry. “Feet Back on the Ground” is sort of like a more traditional and more specific version of “Back When I Knew it All,” as the narrator is taking time out of his day to catch up with his mom. He reflects on how he used to be in a hurry to leave, but now he can’t go more than a few days without talking to her. “”Drive on Home” is similar to “Lucky Man,” except this one is Troy Gentry’s version and decidedly more modern. “King of the World” is a lot like that earlier song as well, and let me tell you, if you can’t smile from this song, you’re wound up too tight. Just a simple, groovy little track that everyone should enjoy.
Actually, that’s the thing about so much of this album, it’s simple in a way that’s not pandering, yet there’s nothing deep about it at all. It’s fun, light, easy to listen to. “That’s the Thing About America” comes dangerously close to pandering, but even that’s got more to it than the surface, as it’s not just an ode to our country or even to our soldiers, but a reminder that everyone can say what they want here, all opinions are valid, and the beauty of this country is that one can just as soon burn the flag here as die for the nation. “Shotgun Wedding” is surprisingly smart as well, framing the whole thing around the line “shotgun wedding, and a boy in a bulletproof vest.” Even “Needing a Beer” goes deeper than its title implies, and although it’s basically still about sitting in a bar drinking a beer, it doubles as a nod to all the hardworking people who can’t be there, like teachers, first responders, and soldiers.
For the most part, their sound returns to a more signature blend of modern country and rock characteristic of their earlier stuff. There are even some more traditional-leaning moments here like in “crazies Welcome” and “Feet Back on the Ground.” The most modern/pop-leaning song, aside from the calamity that is “Get down South,” is “What’cha Say we Don’t.” A lot of people are going to hate this on principle, but it works for this listener despite the sound. I thought I would hate it also, but the smart lyrics about trying to save a relationship on the brink of collapse–instead of doing the easy, predictable thing and just letting it fall apart–actually redeem this song. Even “Drink Along Song” isn’t bad for what it is, which, as you can guess, is pretty much just that.
Overall? Sue me, I like this. And it’s got nothing to do with Troy Gentry’s death, or the fact that this is probably Montgomery Gentry’s final album. In fact, that’s not even relevant, as this album was completed before his passing. If anything, it’s more about the fact that this was Montgomery Gentry just getting back to being themselves, to being the reason that people fell in love with them in the first place. It’s similar to what I said about Brad Paisley’s album last year; if you didn’t like him before, that album wasn’t going to change your opinion, and I don’t think this record will be making any new fans of Montgomery Gentry. However, it will bring those fans back who were unhappy with the direction they were taking on their last couple albums, and now, it will be a nice farewell and allow them to leave on a high note. To quote an earlier song from them: “that’s something to be proud of.”