- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

The buzz about Austin, Texas-based guitarist Monte Montgomery has been nothing short of an apotheosis. "A spellbinding acoustic guitar wizard," gushed the Austin-American Statesman. "Fast approaching 'master' status," said the San Antonio Express. He was voted best acoustic guitarist three years in a row at Austin's ultrahip South by Southwest music festival.

Mr. Montgomery performed Saturday night at the State Theatre in Falls Church for his first headline gig in the metropolitan area. Accompanied by Phil Bass (drums), Chris Maresh (bass) and "Doctor" Michael Urdy (percussion), Mr. Montgomery, fueled by tequila shots and end-of-tour euphoria, played an energetic, two-hour-plus set of original material, some of it new, as well as a couple of interesting covers.

Mr. Montgomery has opened for the likes of Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson and Robert Earl Keen, but for the past three years, the 33-year-old guitarist has been steadily building an enthusiastic nationwide fan base.

"This song is going to make me," he joked, introducing an unreleased ballad, "I See You Everywhere."


Mr. Montgomery, who was born in Birmingham, Ala., found early on that he had a knack for music, learning piano and trumpet before alighting on the guitar.

"My Mom played guitar, and there was always one lying around,"he says in a phone interview. "Then I hocked my trumpet."

He was on his way to guitar-hero status.

One of his chief influences growing up was Fleetwood Mac's Lindsey Buckingham, something of an unsung guitar wizard himself. "I was fascinated by how much he could do without using a pick," Mr. Montgomery says.

In an ode to Mr. Buckingham, he closed his set with a superb cover of Fleetwood Mac's "World Turning."

Playing as a "hired gun" in several Austin pickup bands, he zeroed in on his unique acoustic style. "I found I was able to pull off everything [on acoustic guitar] that I did on electric," he says.

He uses electronic distortion to juice up his riffing, but the made-by-hand tonality of the acoustic guitar sets Mr. Montgomery's style apart from that of other Texas guitar masters such as Stevie Ray Vaughn and Johnny Winter.

During his mind-boggling extended solos, he weaves around the stage while staring fixedly at the neck of his guitar, which looks as if it has been dragged through both mud and asphalt. It's as though he's negotiating intensely with the instrument and he wins, every time.

There's a lot to watch: lightning-quick string skipping, dazzling fret-board-tapping harmonics and impressive fingerpicking. The acrobatics always remain on this side of self-indulgence, however; he's careful to keep the virtuosity tethered to the context of the song.

There's something for the casual listener, too. Mr. Montgomery's original material is compellingly funky; the singing is sturdy; and the lyrics are passable. Songs such as "When Will I" (from 1999's "Mirror") and "It's Alright" (from his debut album, 1998's "Ist and Repair") would be just as fine without the superhuman solos.

To date, he has released three albums on the Texas Music Group label. His latest, "Wishing Well," was released in July 2001 to positive reviews.

Mr. Montgomery's band is clearly well-oiled. With tight, dynamic interplay, the group sounds much bigger than the sum of its four pieces, as a rollicking encore performance of the Stevie Wonder classic "Superstitious" demonstrated to a wowed audience Saturday night.

"I've been archiving some of my shows," he says, hinting that a compendium of live performances may be in the offing.

Mr. Montgomery's gig last weekend came on the heels of the one-year anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. "It's eerie," he says, recalling that he played a gig in New York City shortly after the attacks.

The music "gives people an escape," he continues, and that's what Mr. Montgomery served up Saturday night.

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