John Montgomery,
One Step Away
(Circus Drum, 2002)

For some reason, this album reminds me of horse racing. Blame it on the leftover hype of a potential Triple Crown winner or the preponderance of horse-racing in various media -- I don't know. No matter who's to blame, One Step Away by John Montgomery is like a horse that starts out strong at the gate but ends up placing or showing (sorry -- that's second or third for the uninitiated).

"Not Now, Not Ever" is a great song that begins the album with a strong pace. It's a nice narrative with a quick beat and a catchy chorus. "One Step Away" is the next song that makes a sudden (but not drastic) change of tempo and understanding. The lyrics for the first song evoked semi-obvious emotions like love/desire, but anyone's guess is probably right for the title track. Here's an excerpt: "Now the people come at me/in columns and rows/their skulls all glow/with ancient electrical wire" with an emphasis on e-LEK-tri-kul wi-er-er. While the lyrics are complex and odd, the background tune is very simple and easy to follow -- a clever use of juxtaposition.

OK, so you've got two different yet good songs that start everything off just right. What follows? A slow ballad that begins to sap some of the built-up energy, a mediocre love ballad and a very slow song (with an opening strangely evocative of Kansas's "Dust in the Wind") that brings the album to a halt.

"Followed by the Sound" starts to pick up the pace with an intriguing guitar chord. The tempo is still a bit slow, but the interest level is growing. The energy of the early part of the album comes back with the intense "Good for Your Heart". Don't let the mellow tune fool you--the lyrics have a subtle yet concentrated passion. Heading towards the finish line is "When I Paint My Masterpiece," a good cover of Bob Dylan's song, and "Curved Like a Bow," a soft, sweet end to the album.

Except for three or four songs, this would be an outstanding collection of "alternative folk pop" songs. It's still a really good album, but falls short of being great. That's why it's like a second place horse -- it does a good job throughout most of the race but misses by just a little bit. But, if you're the type to bet on placing or showing, then you can't lose with One Step Away.

- Rambles
written by C. Nathan Coyle
published 9 August 2003

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