One of country music’s favorite duos is back. With Back When I Knew It All, Montgomery Gentry has given country fans an album that is, in turns, rockin’, rollicking, amusing, and insightful. While all 11 songs are solid country music, Back When I Knew It All offers listeners three truly extraordinary tracks:
“The Big Revival” brings a mountain tempo and a bit of bluegrass to MG’s usual high-energy country as the song paints a vivid description of a snake-handling tent revival in the Appalachians. Listeners should pay attention to the song’s introduction which, although recorded in the studio, sounds like it was lifted off an AM station in a remote area of West Virginia.
In “Long Line of Losers,” MG does a tongue-in-cheek and rather original take on the classic country music theme of coming from ‘overly-humble’ origins.
Starting off as a classic country tale of a down-home boy trapped at an uptown social function, “Now You’re Talkin’” presents listeners with a twist – rapidly evolving into the equally classic country theme of flirting at a bar. The track also features some clever lyrics and catchy musical hooks.
While those three represent Back When I Knew It All’s strongest offerings, several other tracks deserve comment. The title track, “Back When I Knew It All” features the somber and rather frank reflections of an adult looking back on his youth … but without the inevitable nostalgia typical of such songs. “One in Every Crowd” is a light-hearted and catchy celebration of that guy we all know … and secretly wish we could be. Country Superstar Toby Keith joins the duo on “I Pick My Parties,” which practically begs to be turned into a drinking song. Finally, “God Knows Who I Am” includes the ethereal vocals of Lillie Mae Rische of Jypsi.
Montgomery Gentry’s music is also well known for its top quality instrumentation. This is especially true of guitar work that can go toe to toe with any act in Nashville. With Back When I Knew It All, the duo has outdone itself. The album’s tracks deliver command performances on the ever present guitar but also on a range of other instruments. Pay particular attention to the hip, funky electric organ on “The Big Revival,” slide-guitar that could make a bluesman cry on “Long Line of Losers,” the inspired electric guitar solos on “Look Some More”, and the rollicking honky-tonk piano on “I Pick My Parties”,
One of the album’s few weaknesses is its pacing. Back When I Knew It All leads off with its three strongest tracks. While there are no bad songs on the album and things do pick up a bit again toward the end, the middle tracks can feel like a bit of a come down after such a powerful start.
Similarly, some of the album’s tracks suffer from an overly-polished, overly-produced, “formulated for Top 40 Country Radio” sound. Going down that road is a powerful temptation for any act, but Montgomery Gentry is definitely one of those bands that sound best when they sound like they don’t care how they sound. The strongest tracks on this track are invariably the ones where MG outlawed-up a little bit and did it their way.
However, such flaws are very minor things in what is an excellent album of enjoyable, clever country that features several tracks that are practically begging you to hit the “repeat” button.