A genuine raconteur of Americana, Monty Russell’s version of it is agreeably diverse yet less ambiguous than most; plot his various styles on a map and you’ll generally describe an arc between Bakersfield, where he gets his twang, the bluesier parts of Texas, and a brief stopover for some Memphis soul. In fact, it’s his excellent cover of Percy Sledge’s “First You Cry” that lays his priorities bare: though he comes off like a bluesman on most of the up-tempo stuff, classic country is his true center. Notice his Gatemouth tribute “Cowboy Cadillac” and the winking confessional “Too Many Honky Tonks,” which mines the same vein of bad-boy nostalgia as Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried.” Even the swamp-pop slow dance of “Hold Out for Love” features a slide guitar that drags it into Ronnie Milsap territory.
Featuring backing by a youngish group of local roots-rockers turned Nashville scenesters known as The Levees, Monty’s second release (after his 2006 debut The Fool) pops with more spirit than you’d expect from an old vet, although the real MVP of the session is his peer, Joe Diffie sideman Kevin Adams on piano and organ. Along with some churchy backup vocalists and a hot brass section, Monty makes his 13-year layoff seem more like 13 months, whether he’s singing about prison (“Parish Pea Farm”), domestic abuse (“Shake Back Baby”), or our new cultural normal on “Nothing But Love for You,” which reveals him as a conscientious objector in the Cold Civil War: like any true old-school country blues hybrid, his politics is all personal.