It’s better when they’re together.
In the year since I last visited Ricky Montgomery’s music (officially, at least), there has been a fundamental shift. A change of tides necessary to give way to something sticky and sweet. Literally.
Montgomery, a singer-songwriter with a surreptitious kind of joie de vivre and the nerve to make the stuff of sunlit lucid dreams, has linked music-making arms with a trio of musicians called the Honeysticks. No longer is he the titular lone Mr. Loverman from his debut album: Montgomery’s now the frontman of a fiercely promising quartet.
First there’s Caleb Hurst, a fellow former Viner and self-named “tall boy with spunk” all bundled up with the same off-kilter sense of humor as Montgomery himself, on guitar and vocals. Then there’s Ben Russin, aptly nicknamed “Ben on the Bass,” who slaps the strings to let the tunes groove on. Rounding out the foursome is Ryan Fyffe, a long-time drummer who expertly executes his double duty of keeping time and punctuating prose-like lyrics.
Call it expanding horizons, call it seizing an opportunity. Hell, even call it realizing a teen dream of Being in a Band. The brass tacks of Ricky Montgomery & The Honeysticks (and not just Ricky Montgomery) is that the landscape view is even more dazzling than the parts that make the picture.
And that’s best evidenced in the band’s debut single, “Out Like a Light,” released in the dark hours of Friday, June 16.
Superficially, the track is what many of us would consider an out-right jam. Not in the sense that it would incite girlish screams in the way a Beyoncé tune would (though I may be proven wrong down the line), but rather that “Out Like a Light” is a song that’s fundamentally good. The lyrics do what effective storytelling does: present themselves as relatable but not overgeneralized, personal but not ostracizing. The instrumentation follows suit, offering gingerly stacked-up melodies and harmonies that are easily committed to memory — all but involuntarily. In general terms, Ricky Montgomery & The Honeysticks delivered deliciously with “Out Like a Light.”
But once you sink your fingers into the guts of the track, you become aware of the scope of it all. It starts small: the song is one that mines the diamonds from Montgomery’s past ventures, gives them a princess cut, and pops them in a stunning setting. “Would we never fight when I’m away” mirrors a snip from “Line Without a Hook” — “Do you like it when I’m away? / If I went and hurt my body, baby, would you love me the same?” — in a fashion that demands your blood ripple with a chill. The triple time is familiar, again akin to the track about the hookless line of love. Montgomery’s unique tone of voice is just as charming as it’d been before. But in this sizzling second outing that evades the sophomore slump, everything has been blown out, amped up.
The Honeysticks bring backing that, ironically enough, subverts the “and somethings” bit of the “singer and company” name standard. The breakdowns and the brief interludes boom in their own rights, with particular mention to the zizzing guitar solo in the song’s third minute. Hurst’s voices cushions Montgomery’s; Fyffe’s cymbals buzz when electricity is needed most; Russin bass bounces to mimic heartbeats. And Montgomery dishes up his own newness beyond the penned lines and lead vocals: an even more genuine vulnerability. Woven between verses is a spoken part performed by an ex-girlfriend of Montgomery’s. Tacked at the end is a singing vocal, tucked with care underneath the more prominent solo, done Montgomery’s by own sister. From these bits alone, it’s clear this song was one borne from passion in a conception that killed the pressure. It’s noticeable even from the outside. Even from the back rows.
With “Out Like a Light,” a riveting re-entry to the music scene made all the merrier by the new band, it seems that Montgomery has achieved all he’s set out to do — and the Honeysticks, too. “My last album was me trying to be ‘a very good Vine musician,'” Montgomery recently confessed. “Whereas this is me (and my band) trying to be ‘very good in general.'”
Mission most definitely accomplished.