Forever, the new album from singer-songwriter Bonnie Montgomery, is a concise, rewarding collection influenced by her Arkansas roots, the west Texas expanse and her classical music training.
And Willie Nelson. Specifically, his 1974 record Phases & Stages, a concept album about a divorce.
Bonnie Montgomery album release show
9 p.m. Friday, South on Main, 1304 S. Main St., Little Rock
Montgomery, who will celebrate Forever's release with a show Friday at South on Main in Little Rock, first got a copy of the Nelson record from her friend and fellow singer-songwriter Amy Garland Angel.
"Amy actually introduced me fully to Willie," says the 38-year-old Montgomery. "I was more of a Johnny Cash person. I appreciated Willie, but then I really dove into his catalog and saw what all he went through in his career, I really started to identify with him."
She was drawn to Phases & Stages, in part, by the Spanish and Texas influence on the playing and arrangements.
"Some of the instrumentation is really western, I would almost call them Mexican folk songs, with a lot of classical guitar, a lot of steel strings, and I think that sort of did guide me to go that way."
That sound is evident from the new album's first track, "Forever Intro," which features Spanish-tinged classical guitar, fiddle, steel guitar and Montgomery's plaintive, crystal clear vocals.
It's also one of four songs in a "Forever" suite sprinkled across the record that serves as the album's heart, grappling with themes of love, loss, desire and life on the road, which is where Montgomery has spent a lot of time lately, traveling from gig to gig and splitting time between Arkansas and Texas.
"It's sort of the crux of the whole album, and the core of how I've been feeling personally and musically," she says. "It made sense to bring it back several times throughout the album."
The idea of revisiting the themes and the song came from her classical training. Montgomery, who soaked up songs at her family's music store in Searcy while growing up, has an undergraduate degree in music from Ouachita Baptist University and a master's degree in music from the University of Missouri -- Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. Her modern folk opera, Billy Blythe, Bill Clinton as A Boy, created with fellow Ouachita alumna Britt Barber, made its Little Rock debut in 2016.
"In symphonies, there's a theme that will come back throughout different movements and return in different forms," Montgomery says. "I think of the idea as a classical technique of tying everything together on the record."
The Nelson record uses a similar approach.
Forever is Montgomery's second full-length, following her 2014 self-titled effort and a pair of EPs, Cruel from 2011 and 2013's Joy. It was recorded last spring at Ameripolitan Studios in Austin, Texas, which is owned by Austin outlaw country legend Dale Watson (who adds his river-deep baritone to "Goin' Out Tonight") and Chris Burns, who produced and engineered the album.
"It didn't take us long to lay down the tracks because we were all in the same room together in the studio," she says. "It was a really fast recording process, and that's thanks to Chris. It was a really cool, organic process ... and the bandmates that made this record possible are phenomenal musicians."
Arkansas Symphony Orchestra violinist and associate conductor Geoffrey Robson plays fiddle on the album and tours with Montgomery. They met when Billy Blythe was being workshopped in Little Rock.
"It really was a magical weekend in Austin," Robson says of the Forever recording process. "We recorded as a complete band, not in bits and pieces, and it started coming out beautifully."
The first single, "No More," which debuted last month on popmatters.com, is a honky tonk kiss-off to a bad relationship and features Robson's sprightly fiddle.
"As a lyricist, she's able to capture really relatable emotions and ideas with very few words," he says. "Her songs are these beautiful word moments that you instantly bond with. And when she gets an idea for a sound in her mind, she has such a wide array of influences, she's such a knowledgeable musician, that it's really fun to create and play with her."
Among the 11 tracks, one stands out stylistically yet still sounds in step with the rest of the record.
"Comets," with its lush strings and Montgomery's sparkling vocal, was inspired in part by Beatles producer George Martin.
"'Comets' happened a while before we got into the studio for this album," she says. "Me and Geoffrey and [guitarist] Matt Ford were just obsessed with this song. I wasn't so much, but they were."
Robson and Ford envisioned the song with instrumentation along the lines of The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby," a pop hit that featured a string quartet and voice. On the day the three were recording the song, Martin, who wrote the "Eleanor Rigby" score, died.
"We said, let's just make it a tribute to George Martin, and do it exactly like we want to do it," Montgomery recalls. "This is a country band and this is a country record, but this song is from the heart, and as we continued [recording the rest of the record], all of the band members said, 'You have to keep 'Comets' in.' It really became the pivoting point in the sequencing of the album."
Style on 02/20/2018
Print Headline: Bonnie Montgomery celebrates Forever in show